What Happens During A Field Sobriety Test?

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Dec 05

Lewis & Laws

What Happens During A Field Sobriety Test?

by Lewis & Laws

What Happens During A Field Sobriety Test?

It’s a familiar feeling: You’re driving home after a night out, thinking everything is going just fine...when you see the red lights in your rearview mirror. Your stomach drops to your shoes and you realize that, while you feel perfectly capable of driving safely, the officer who’s about to come around to the window may see things differently.

Most often, motorists aren’t stopped specifically on suspicion of driving under the influence. Instead, it’s usually something minor—a broken light, failure to signal a turn, or a perceived swerve that gets an officer’s attention. If you’re not driving in an extremely reckless manner, you’ve probably been stopped for something minor. However, if you’ve been pulled over and the office believes that you may have been drinking, they’ll use their training to determine whether you’re under the influence of alcohol or not.

Typically, that means a field sobriety test. Unfortunately, field sobriety tests are highly unscientific and may not be a good indicator of a person’s blood alcohol level and intoxication. 

The Three Parts of a Standard Field Sobriety Tests

Though field sobriety tests may vary, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration endorses one standard test comprised of three parts. Those parts are:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): If you’ve ever wondered why an officer will look into your eyes to determine intoxication, here’s the answer: This test looks for an involuntary twitch of the eye that occurs when a person has consumed alcohol.
  • The walk-and-turn (WAT): As much a test of a person’s ability to comply with instructions as it is a test of motor skills, officers will ask a person to walk and turn on command to determine their cognitive awareness and ability move and retain information. 
  • The one-leg stand (OLS): Plenty of people can’t do this sober, but it’s still a part of the test; the OLS looks to see if a person sways, hops, or otherwise indicates poor balance as a result of cognitive impairment.

Impairment can be established through a variety of indicators, ranging from a lack of motor skills to an inability to follow instructions. Alone, these tests may not be particularly effective - however, when taken together, courts tend to view them as conclusive. Unfortunately, most of the science around field sobriety tests is significantly outdated.

Field Sobriety Test Issues

Despite being widely regarded as a conclusive test for impairment, field sobriety tests come with myriad problems when it comes to determining a motorist’s ability to drive safely. Primarily, they don’t test for blood alcohol, which means in some instances, a perfectly sober person may fail simply because they’re tired or distracted.

Additionally, field sobriety tests aren’t perfect for every member of the population; some people’s eyes twitch in the manner seen during the HGN test because of other biological quirks or medical conditions.

Regardless of how you perform in a field sobriety test, if you’ve been charged with a DUI it’s imperative that you obtain legal counsel quickly. These tests aren’t binding and may even offer some information to your attorney. Always remember that DUIs happen to good people, and we believe that everyone deserves their day in court.  

If You’ve Been Charged with a DUI in Seattle, Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

The expert defense team at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws, PLLC vigorously defend the rights of individuals facing a multitude of charges in Seattle, Bellevue, and Kirkland. Contact us today at 206.209.0608 or fill out our online contact form to get more information or to get a free case review!



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