Everyone knows that drinking and driving is incredibly dangerous. However, it is perfectly legal and safe to have a drink or two at a social event and get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, even if you are very careful with how much you drink, if you get pulled over, you may have to submit to one or more of 7 field sobriety tests. There’s a good chance you will fail that test, even if you are well under the legal alcohol limit. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can possibly defend yourself if you do, indeed, fail.
Why Might You Have to Take a Field Sobriety Test?
Police officers administer field sobriety tests to help them judge whether or not a driver has been under the influence of alcohol while driving. This means that the driver’s ability to drive has been impaired by alcohol, or by another type of drug. The terms DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) are used to refer to people who have been driving under these conditions. It is completely up to the officer to determine whether a driver has shown any indications of being intoxicated.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
A police officer will hold a pen, pencil, or other thin object in front of your face from about a foot away. They will then move the object back and forth, and ask you to follow it with your eyes. A human eye will twitch when it reaches a sideways viewing angle of 45 degrees. This is called Nystagmus. If you have a high blood alcohol content (BAC) your eye will twitch before it gets to 45 degrees.
While it seems pretty straightforward, an HGN test must pass certain criteria. For instance, not just any officer can administer the test. They must have received special training to do so. The lighting in the area must also be adequate, and there must not be any blinking lights that could get in your eyes while you are undergoing the test. The officer must also administer the test to each eye more than once to verify the results. Even if all of these conditions are met, there are several possible defenses against any charges that might result. Mostly this defense will depend on other things that can cause an early eye twitch. These include ingesting too much caffeine, being overly fatigued, taking aspirin, and even hypertension or illness. Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can cause HGN.
Walk and Turn Test
The walk and turn test can be used to test your balance and coordination at the time the officer pulled you over. There are two parts to this test. The first involves the officer asking you to do certain actions while standing heel-to-toe. Your arms must also be right down at your sides. The second part still involves being heel-to-toe but taking at least nine steps along a line on the ground. Then, you must turn around and walk back while counting all of the steps out loud. This must also be done with your arms down at your sides.
Just like with the HGN test, certain conditions must be met for the walk and turn test to be admissible. For instance, it has to be administered on a surface that is not slippery. No icy spots or loose gravel. There must also be enough room to walk a full 9 steps, and it must be in a safe place. If the area is not safe, then you must be taken to somewhere safer. At all times, you must be able to see the officer’s complete face while you are undergoing the testing, so there must be an adequate amount of light. Finally, there must be a line to follow or a reasonable spot to imagine a line.
You will fail the test if the officer thinks that you show certain signs of intoxication. If you have trouble balancing, then that is a huge red flag for the officer. You should not start too early, or stop too early, either. If you’re not able to place your feet heel-to-toe, then the officer will note that as well. Removing your hands from your sides will also cause you to fail. As you can see, any little thing that goes wrong can lead to you failing the test, even if it had nothing to do with alcohol or drugs. It is all in the opinion of the officer administering it, and even if well-trained, they can still be fallible.
Defending against a walk and turn can depend on the officer’s actions, your state of mind or physical condition, or the conditions of the surrounding area. The officer must provide clear instructions of every aspect on the test, including placing your feet heel-to-toe and placing your hands at your sides. The officer also cannot distract you or do anything that might make you lose your balance.
You may also have various physical issues that might affect your balance and coordination, which will certainly affect a walk and turn test. People over the age of 60, in particular, are susceptible to failing, as are people who are overweight or very small. Other factors such as mental health or brain damage issues can also play a part.
You must also be allowed to remove any footwear, such as high heels, that might make it harder to take the test, and you cannot be forced to take the test if you are wearing restrictive clothing that might make it more difficult.
The One Leg Stand Test
The one-leg stand test helps an officer determine if you are able to multitask and have your attention on more than one thing simultaneously. It involves standing on one leg for 30 seconds while performing some tasks as per the officer’s instructions. You must keep your hands at your sides at all times unless instructed otherwise by the officer, and your foot must be at least 6 inches off the ground. The task is often something like counting by a certain number until 30 seconds is up.
The officer will be checking for how well you are able to balance. If you hop, use your arms, or sway and look like you will lose balance, then you will fail the test. Of course, putting your foot down too early is also a no-no. These could all happen for reasons other than intoxication, and you could fail the test. The test must be taken on a surface that is not slippery or uneven, and where there is adequate lighting.
The defense from failing the test could be related to the environmental standards not being met. This can include if cars were passing close by during the test, or if there were flashing lights in your eyes. A defense could also revolve around your physical condition, or what you are wearing, much like the defense for the walk and turn test.
There are some other tests that are simpler and do not have any science behind them. These tests involve the officer giving specific instructions, and the suspect being required to perform the instructions properly. These can be easy to fail, even without intoxication. Dealing with the police can be intimidating enough, and then being asked to answer questions to perform tasks can make anyone nervous or agitated. Mistakes happen, and there can be serious consequences, if you have failed a field sobriety test and are searching for the best DUI lawyer near me, contact our Oakland based criminal law firm today, we can help clear your name and possibly even get your DUI dismissed.
Reciting Some of the Alphabet
This can sometimes just be a matter of reciting the entire alphabet, but to make things trickier, a suspect will be asked to recite only a part of the alphabet, or to recite the alphabet backward. This can be tricky, especially if the officer doesn’t allow someone to sing the alphabet song or gives a time limit. An officer may even ask you to recite the alphabet backward. Several learning disabilities may prevent a person from performing properly.