This was a blog posted by Attorney Lance Dutton, Partner with Sterns-Montgomery & Proctor, a Criminal Defence Law Firm in Marietta, Georgia.
What happens when an officer suspects that you are driving under the influence?
If an officer suspects that you are under the influence he/she will almost always ask you to step out of your vehicle to perform a field sobriety test. If you haven’t admitted to drinking and the officer only smells alcohol or sees that you have bloodshot eyes, his probable cause to arrest you at this point is extremely low. Field Sobriety Tests are designed to help provide any additional evidence or reasoning for an officer to ask you to perform a breath test. There are three field sobriety tests that are recognized for being reliable and are justifiable during trial.
The Three Recognized Field Sobriety Tests:
- The walk and turn test – During this test the officer finds a straight line and asks you to take ten steps touching your heel to your toe on each step. The officer is looking to see if you sway, if you walk in a straight line, if you do the right number of steps, and if you are touching your heel to toe on all of your steps.
- The one-legged stand test – This is a balancing test where you put one leg up just under a 45-degree angle and it usually lasts around 30 seconds. Again the officer is looking to see if you sway, if you lose your balance or if you have to drop your foot to hit the ground.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test – Here the officer is looking for nystagmus (pupil pulsing) when he has you follow an object (usually a pen/pencil) with your eyes from side to side.
Challenges of Field Sobriety Tests
- A simple miscommunication such as when to start the tests or how to perform the tests could result in failing the test and recorded as a sign of impairment according to the officer.
- If you choose to perform the test that was requested by the officer, but do not agree with their assessment of the test, you could be fighting an uphill battle during trial.
- Every move you make will be under scrutiny. It is possible for the State and the officer to conclude that anything out of the ordinary was the result of your impairment. This can be avoided if you simply decline to take the test.
The good news is that field sobriety tests are not mandatory and you have the right to refuse them.