Field sobriety tests don't always have a leg to stand on

Maybe you had a glass or two of wine or a couple of beers before heading home. The next thing you know, a patrol car appears behind you with lights and sirens. You pull over, and after a few minutes, the officer asks you to exit the vehicle because he or she suspects you of driving under the influence.

To obtain the probable cause needed to place you under arrest for DUI, the officer asks you to submit to field sobriety tests, which the officer claims you failed. As you ride in the back of the patrol car, you may wonder whether you really failed those tests because you don't feel intoxicated.

A breakdown of the most used field sobriety tests

Police use the following three field sobriety tests most often:

  • The walk and turn test requires you to walk heal-to-toe for nine steps, turn 180 degrees and repeat in the opposite direction. It's designed to see whether you can function with your attention divided in different directions.
  • In the one-leg stand test, the officer asks you to raise one leg about six inches off the ground and maintain your balance for about 30 seconds. It's designed to look for any loss of balance, hopping or dropping your raised foot. Supposedly, any inability to complete this test indicates that you are drunk.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus is the last of the three tests. Officers check whether your eyes can smoothly follow a moving object, your eyes jerk at maximum deviation or your eyes jerk within 45 degrees of when you look straight ahead. Allegedly, any jerking considered "exaggerated" indicates impairment.

Some police departments use other types of field sobriety tests (either alone or in addition to the three above), but they are not considered part of the standard testing.

Problems with field sobriety tests

Even though many courts accept the results of these tests as indicators of impairment, this does not mean that they will be in your case. Certain physical disabilities or medical issues can skew test results. For instance, not everyone can keep their balance while standing on one leg.

Furthermore, the law requires that police officers receive appropriate training to perform these tests. If the officer fails to conduct the tests properly, the court may not accept the results as evidence of intoxication.

Your right to counsel

You should know that field sobriety tests aren't infallible. If you present evidence to the court that another reason exists for why you failed the tests, the results could end up inadmissible. The efficacy of field sobriety tests is just one part of preparing your defense to DUI charges. Further investigation into the traffic stop, any breath test or other factors could reveal that the case against you isn't as reliable as police and prosecutors believe.

A Kentucky criminal defense attorney can find the weaknesses in the prosecution's case and provide you with all of your legal options. In the end, it may be possible to either have the charges reduced or dismissed entirely depending on the circumstances.

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