Failing a Field Sobriety Test

If police suspect that you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. This three-part test typically precedes the breathalyzer test and allows law enforcement to observe your balance, concentration, and physical and cognitive abilities, among other factors. An officer then uses these observations to determine whether you are intoxicated. There are multiple ways to fail a field sobriety test, even if you are sober. Fatigue, nervousness, and physical ailments can all make a person appear intoxicated. Contact a Massachusetts OUI / DWI Defense Attorney Today.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) endorses the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) as the standard method of determining whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The test consists of three parts; the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn test (WAT), and the one-leg stand (OLS). In addition to these three determinants, law enforcement may also request additional, non-standardized tests, such as counting backwards, and closing the eyes while touching the nose with one finger.

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): This refers to the involuntary jerking of the eye that naturally occurs when the eye gaze is directed to one side. When impaired by alcohol, this jerking is exaggerated. It may indicate impairment if an individual is unable to follow a moving object steadily, if there is pronounced jerking of the eye at the maximum deviation, and / or if the eye jerks within 45 degrees of center.

  • Walk and Turn (WAT): This test allows an officer to determine an individual’s ability to multi-task. The suspect will be asked to take nine, heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and then do the same thing while walking in the opposite direction.

  • One-Leg Stand (OLS): This test is used to assess an individual’s balance. An officer will ask the suspect to stand on one foot for about 30 seconds. It may indicate impairment if the individual sways, uses arms for balance, hops, or puts the foot down.
What Happens if You Fail a Field Sobriety Test?

For starters, failing a field sobriety test is not a conviction for drunk driving. If you find yourself under arrest for drunk driving, do not panic. Cooperate with the officer’s orders and stay calm. As soon as you are able, it is imperative to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Make sure the lawyer specializes in OUI / DWI cases.

In addition to personal factors such as fatigue and physical ailments, there are many other reasons a sober person might fail a field sobriety test. The test may have been improperly or unfairly administered, or given under difficult conditions. In addition, field sobriety tests do not correlate to a specific blood alcohol level (BAC). The only way to determine BAC is through a breathalyzer, or a blood or urine test, and even these can be flawed. The predictive abilities of a field sobriety test are largely dependent on the officer’s administration of the test. In fact, research has shown that even when the test is administered correctly under perfect conditions, a failure only correlates to a BAC of 0.08% or above with 80% accuracy. By no means is 80% proof beyond a reasonable doubt!

Altman & Altman, LLP - Criminal Defense Lawyers Specializing in OUI Defense

If you have been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, contact Altman & Altman, LLP immediately. Our skilled OUI defense team has extensive experience analyzing reports of failed field sobriety tests and exposing flaws in the way the tests were administered, as well as in the tests themselves. We have an impressive track record of getting clients’ charges reduced, or dismissed altogether. It is our goal to protect your rights and reputation, and to keep you out of jail. If you’ve been charged with OUI or DWI in Massachusetts, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free consultation about your case.

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