What Are Field Sobriety Tests and is a West Palm Beach Driver Required to Submit to Them?
When a police officer spots an erratic driver, his first thought is whether or not the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Typical signs of impaired driving include the inability to stay within a single lane, swerving in and out of lanes, driving at inconsistent speeds, suddenly accelerating or slowing down, driving in a jerky manner, sudden turns, and other obvious out-of-control driving.
The officer turns on his siren and lights and closely trails the suspect’s car. All the while he carefully observes the driver’s vehicle – and his actions. When the officer walks up to the driver’s window and asks for driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, he’s watching: can the driver produce these items without fumbling? Is there an odor of alcohol or marijuana on the driver’s breath? Are there open containers or drugs anywhere in sight?
Unfortunately, in most cases the officer has already made up his mind before speaking to the driver. Now he’s just accumulating additional evidence for a DUI. His next step may be to ask the driver to submit to a series of field sobriety tests. What is a field sobriety test? The field sobriety tests are a series of tests that were designed to indicate whether or not the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs.
The Three Standard Field Sobriety Tests
In 1981, The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), approved and instituted standardized field sobriety tests, now used in Florida and throughout the country. The three primary tests are:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN) – a flashlight is pointed at the driver’s eyes and the driver is asked to follow the light as the officer scans it from left to right and right to left. Twitching at certain degrees is an indication of a potentially high blood alcohol content level (BAC).
- The Walk and Turn Test – driver must take nine perfect heel-to-toe steps on a line, turn around and do the same in the opposite direction.
- The One Leg Stand Test – driver must stand on one foot, elevate the other leg, and maintain balance.
You have probably seen these tests many times, whether in person, in the movies or on television. There is a tremendous amount of controversy regarding the validity and accuracy of these tests. These tests are constantly protested by defense attorneys and others as being flawed. Some of the reasons they are said to be flawed are the following:
- The officers’ training is questionable
- The officer administers the tests incorrectly and inconsistently
- The officer’s conclusions are completely subjective
Florida Drivers Are NOT Required To Take Field Sobriety Tests
Most drivers are unaware that Florida law does not require them to submit to field sobriety tests. A driver cannot be issued a citation, fined or lose their license for not submitting to a field sobriety test. These field sobriety tests are almost impossible to “pass,” even by completely sober individuals, and even under the best of conditions.
Many people are not healthy or coordinated enough to pass these tests. For example, it is completely unreasonable to expect an elderly person to stand on one leg and hold their balance for an extended period of time. It is also unreasonable to expect someone to perfectly walk heel-to-toe on a paved or gravelly road, with police lights and cars buzzing by.
It is important to note that a field sobriety test is not treated the same as a Breathalyzer test or a blood, breath or urine test. If a driver is ordered by a police officer to submit to a blood, breath or urine test and they refuse, they will face an automatic driver’s license suspension.
Attorney David W. Olson, Roadside Sobriety Test and DUI Defense Attorney
Attorney David Olson has been representing clients for more than three decades, including those charged with drunk driving and drug offenses. If you were threatened and told you had to take a roadside sobriety test or if you were charged with any other misdemeanor or felony, it is advisable to contact attorney Olson immediately. He can be reached in West Palm Beach at 561-833-8866 for a free case review. Attorney Olson is an experienced, aggressive and capable attorney who zealously represents his clients, often resulting in dismissals, reduced charges, not guilty verdicts and other positive outcomes.