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Understanding Your Rights in Field Sobriety Tests

Posted on in DUI

San Jose DUI defense attorney field sobriety testsWhen a police officer pulls someone over on suspicion of drunk driving, they will be looking for evidence of the driver’s impairment. In many cases, they may ask a driver to get out of their car and perform a series of field sobriety tests, and based on their observations during these tests, they may decide whether to arrest the driver for DUI. If you have been pulled over, it is important to understand your rights and possible defenses against field sobriety tests.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has defined three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests that it recommends officers use:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus - In this test, the officer will ask the driver to follow an object (such as their finger or a pen) with their eyes. When a person is impaired by alcohol, they may have difficulty tracking a moving object, and their eyes may involuntarily jerk when looking to the side. 
  • Walk and Turn - In this test, the officer will direct the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, turn on one foot, and take nine steps in the opposite direction. The officer will be watching to see if the driver has trouble maintaining their balance, walking in a straight line, or turning, which can indicate impairment.
  • One-Leg Stand - In this test, the officer will ask the driver to balance on one foot for 30 seconds, and they will watch to see if the driver has difficulty balancing.

In addition to these standardized tests, officers may ask drivers to perform other non-standard tests, such as reciting the alphabet backwards, touching their finger to their nose, or counting the number of fingers the officer is holding up.

Defense Against Field Sobriety Tests

While police officers often indicate otherwise, field sobriety tests are voluntary, and drivers are not required to perform them. In many cases, it is in a driver’s best interests to refuse these tests. However, even if you did take and fail field sobriety tests, there are several possible defenses which can be used, including:

  • The tests were not performed correctly. If an officer deviated from the NHTSA guidelines for a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, or if they performed non-standard tests, the results of these tests may be called into question.
  • The driver failed the test for reasons other than impairment. There are a multitude of reasons why you may have failed a field sobriety test, including physical injury or impairment, fatigue, or distress or anxiety about the possibility of being arrested.
  • Environmental factors affected the test. Poor road conditions or inclement weather could lead to test results that have nothing to do with intoxication.

Contact a San Jose, CA Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer

If you have been arrested after failing a field sobriety test, the Law Offices of Erik Steven Johnson can help you to determine your best options for defense and work with you to get back on the road as soon as possible. Contact a San Jose DUI defense attorney at 408-246-3004 to arrange a free consultation.


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