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Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

If you are driving and are stopped by police due to suspicion that you are Driving While Intoxicated, the police may ask you to perform Field Sobriety tests. These Field Sobriety Tests usually include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. Each of these tests present specific challenges for the prosecution at trial. If you fail any of these field sobriety tests, police will generally ask you to submit to a preliminary breath test, which is usually administered at the scene of the traffic stop.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN)

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test is supposed to be conducted in an area that has good lighting, or with the use of a flashlight, with the subject of the test facing away from the police cars flashing emergency lights, as well as the lights of oncoming vehicles. Failure to do so may result in flawed results. The officer should ask the subject whether he or she wears corrective lenses, or has any visual or medical issues that impact their vision. The police officer then holds a stimulus (usually a pen) approximately 12 to 15 inches in front of the subject's face, and directs the subject to follow an object with only their eyes, and without moving their head.

The HGN test designed to look for Lack of Smooth Pursuit of the subject’s eyes during the test. In other words, they are trying to determine whether the eyes follow the stimulus smoothly as they move from the center of the face toward the ear without jerking.

It also looks for Distinct Nystagmus at Maximum Deviation. The question here is whether the subject’s eye jerks before the stimulus is 45 degrees from the center of his or her face. Of course, this exam is very difficult to properly administer due to the required precision and the difficulty in finding an appropriate location to administer it.

The Walk and Turn Test

The Walk and Turn test requires the subject to stand with their arms at their sides with their feet in a heel to toe position. The subject is instructed to take nine steps heel-to-toe along a straight line, then turn, and take nine steps heel-to-toe back along the same line. As the subject is taking the steps, they are instructed to keep their arms at their sides, and to count out loud.

The following are clues which are used to determine whether the subject has successfully completed the test:

  1. Can’t balance during instructions
  2. Starts too soon
  3. Stops while walking
  4. Doesn’t touch heel to toe
  5. Steps off the line
  6. Uses arms for balance
  7. Improper turn/loses balance on turn
  8. Wrong number of steps

It doesn’t take a strong imagination to think of multiple ways that a sober person may fail this test. The subject may have poor balance. They may not have understood the instructions as given (and they are often only given once). They may also be older or have a physical impairment.

One Leg Stand

The One Leg Stand test requires the subject to stand on one leg while extending the other leg straight forward, and approximately six inches above, and parallel to the ground. The subject is instructed to stare at the elevated foot, and to count out loud as follows: “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…" until instructed by the police officer to stop.

The following are clues which are used to determine whether the subject has successfully completed the test:

  1. Swaying while balancing
  2. Using their arms to balance
  3. Hopping
  4. Putting their foot down

Standardized Field Sobriety Testing are anything but “standardized.” They usually are instead ad hoc, with officers spontaneously deciding instructions. Moreover, many officers do not receive any additional training in Field Sobriety Testing once they leave the police academy early in their career. Despite often being largely unfamiliar with the Field Sobriety Tests, the results the Field Sobriety tests are routinely used by police officers to establish probable cause to make a DWI arrest, and are rarely scrutinized by judges or juries to determine whether they were properly administered.

At the Law Offices of Mayo Bartlett, PLLC in White Plains, New York, we review every DWI and DWI related offense to determine how best to challenge field sobriety test results.

Our experienced Field Sobriety Test Lawyers will thoroughly investigate your case, including whether you have a medical condition which would make It difficult, or even impossible for you to properly perform the tests.

If you have been arrested for DWI or for a DWI related offense, our DWI defense lawyers will thoroughly and diligently work to allow you to have the best possible resolution of your matter.

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