When a person is pulled over because they are suspected of drunk driving, they may be asked to take a field sobriety test. These tests should only be administered by someone who’s properly trained.
The goal of a sobriety test is to determine whether a driver is too impaired to drive. While there are several tests that can be done, not all these tests are admissible in court.
Challenges of field sobriety tests
The only field sobriety test that’s admissible in court is the standardized field sobriety test (SFST), which is endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. This includes three specific tests that are considered reliable enough to be used in court.
One issue that leads to challenges is the subjectivity of field sobriety tests. Unlike chemical tests that provide actual readings to gauge the impairment of the driver, a field sobriety test has to be interpreted by the law enforcement officer’s perceptions alone.
The three tests that are part of the SFST include:
- One-leg stand: This can be difficult for some drivers, even when they’re sober, because it requires them to remain balanced on one foot. The officer watches to see if they use their arms to balance, sway, put a foot down or hop during the 30 seconds they’re supposed to stand still.
- Walk-and-turn: This test requires a driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, turn, and walk back to the start. Officers watch for certain signs of impairment.
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus: The driver is told to follow an object with their eyes only. As they follow the side-to-side motion, the officer looks for jerking of the eye at various points.
Even if the SFST is used, it’s still sometimes possible to challenge the results in court because none of the tests are 100% accurate. A lack of training, incorrect administration of the tests or other factors that could directly impact the results of the test may be challenged successfully under certain circumstances.
Preparing a drunk driving defense takes work, so you should start working on it as early after an arrest as possible. Working with someone familiar with these cases is beneficial because you can draw on their experience with similar situations.