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Field Sobriety Tests-Perform Them or Refuse?

Posted Thursday, December 14, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

“Would you mind performing some voluntary field sobriety tests to make sure you are okay to drive?”

This question is the most inaccurate and disingenuous request an officer can make in a DUI investigation. The reason is that these roadside “field sobriety tests” are administered for one purpose….to gather evidence against you in building a DUI case. These tests have little to do with making sure one is safe to drive. Rather, it’s all about gathering evidence against you. These roadside exercises are extremely difficult to perform regardless of how much alcohol you have consumed. Add to the fact you are nervous from being pulled over and standing alongside a highway with an officer staring at you with a flashlight. In other words, It’s just as easy for a sober driver to fail as an impaired driver.

Despite what police officers may attempt to make you believe, you’re not required by Washington law to submit to a field sobriety test.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are nationally recognized tests designed to help law enforcement officers identify drivers suspected of driving under the influence. In theory, these tests are designed for sober drivers to easily pass and for impaired drivers to clearly fail. However, this is not always the case. Throughout each of the tests, law enforcement officers will be looking for slip ups, or clues, indicating impairment. Unfortunately, the line between passing and failing these tests are completely subjective and open to the interpretation of a suspicious officer.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is used to identify a nystagmus, or involuntary twitch in your eye, as an officer moves a stimulus (such as a pen or finger) across your face. All eyes will have a nystagmus when the eye is at an angle greater than 45 degrees. Those with alcohol in their system, however, can have it happen before 45 degrees.

While the HGN test is the most scientific of all of the FSTs, it is still open to interpretation and highly subjective. While alcohol is shown to cause nystagmus, it’s not the only cause. This makes the reliability of the test shaky at best.

The Walk and Turn Test

The walk and turn test is a divided attention field sobriety test. It is used to determine whether a suspect can complete tasks with divided attention. During this test, an officer will instruct you to walk nine steps heel to toe in a straight line. Once you reach nine steps, you’ll then have to turn on one foot and head back the other direction. The police officer will be taking note if you show the following clues:

Are able to maintain balance while listening to the officer’s instructionsStart before the officer has completed instructions Stop to regain balance while walking in the lineAre maintaining heel to toe walking throughoutAre using your arms to maintain balance Maintain balance while turning half way through Take the correct number of steps

If he notices you do any of these, it will be taken as a “clue” you are under the influence.

The One Leg Stand Test

Like the walk and turn test, the One Leg Stand is designed to test if you’re able to complete tasks with divided attention.

Standing with one foot approximately 6 inches off the ground and your foot pointed, you must keep perfect balance while counting to 30. Your arms are to remain at your side and you must be looking down the entire time. The officer will be on the lookout for if you display the following:
Put your foot down before the test is complete Sway over the course of the 30 secondsHop while attempting to maintain balance Use your arms to help maintain balance

Again, any of these will be taken as a “clue.”

It’s important to remember that field sobriety tests are designed to make you look impaired– whether you are or not.

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