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Field Sobriety Tests

When a law enforcement officer suspects a person of DUI, DWI or APC, he/she has the right to request the driver perform a field sobriety test. Field sobriety tests are voluntary, and drivers are usually asked to perform a series of tests. The tests only need to provide the officer with “probable cause” of driving under the influence in order to make an arrest on suspicion of DUI.
Most drivers are asked to perform at least three tests in case extenuating circumstances jeopardize the accuracy of one test. Field sobriety tests challenge the driver’s mental and physical capabilities, and require the driver to prove their ability to demonstrate balance, maintain coordination, and follow instructions. There are a variety of standardized field sobriety tests a driver can be asked to perform, including:

  • The One-leg Stand: The driver is asked to stand with heels together, arms at the side, and then raise one leg six inches off the ground and count out loud. If you raise your arms for balance, wobble, fall, hop, or put your foot down, the officer most likely will assume you are intoxicated.
  • The Walk and Turn: The driver must walk along a line and take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and then do nine heel-to-toe steps back. If the driver can’t follow directions, loses balance, can’t maintain control, or does not touch their heel to their toes, the officer will assume he/she is intoxicated.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: The officer will hold out an object 12-15 inches away and the driver must follow the object with his/her eyes.  If the driver’s eyes cannot track the object, or if their eyeball involuntarily jerks or trembles, it is a sign of intoxication (however, it is important to note that Nystagmus is medical and physiological condition that can be found in a large number of people, even when they are sober).

Some common less reliable, non-standardized field sobriety tests include:

  • Counting backwards or counting the number of fingers an officer holds up
  • The finger to nose test (driver must successfully be able to bring his/her finger to a specific spot on the nose)
  • Stand with feet together and tip the head backwards, sometimes bringing arms out to the side
  • Reciting a the alphabet or a portion of it

Many drivers do not realize that field sobriety tests are voluntary, not mandatory.  Law enforcement will never tell you this though, and quite often the results of the tests will justify your arrest and be used as evidence against you in court.  If you choose to not perform the field sobriety tests, there are simple questions you can ask the officer without sounding deceptive. By asking the officer, “Do I need to take these tests,” “Are these test 100 percent accurate?” and then politely declining until you have spoken with an attorney,  is acceptable behavior and within your legal right.  Any other behavior may come off as defiant.  If you politely refuse to perform these tests, there is no legal ramification and your license will not be revoked.

There are a number of factors that can decrease the accuracy of a field sobriety test. These factors can make even sober drivers appear intoxicated, such as fatigue, nervousness, weather conditions, illness, headlights, physical problems or disabilities, weight, footwear, lack of natural coordination, scared, roadway or sidewalk conditions, inner ear disorders, and age.

Many attorneys believe field sobriety tests are biased and incredibly inaccurate. In fact the tests are only 65%-80% accurate when a skilled officer follows the proper testing procedures. Most attorneys encourage drivers not to perform these tests.  When a law enforcement officer decides to conduct field sobriety tests, he/she has already decided to arrest you, and now they are just looking for evidence to back up their suspicions. By performing these voluntary tests you are potentially giving the law enforcement officer evidence that can be used against you in court. Furthermore, the less you say and do in front of an officer, the better. The more time spent talking to an officer, the more time the officer has to smell alcohol, see empty alcohol containers, or notice slurred speech, a flushed appearance, disarranged clothing, or loud and inappropriate mannerisms and language.

If you fail a field sobriety test, you will be arrested and charged with DUI, DWI, or APC.  DUI, DWI and APC convictions are serious criminal offenses that are not taken lightly. An individual convicted of drunk driving may face severe punishments such as imprisonment, probation, loss or suspension of driver’s license, rehabilitation, heavy fines, or community service.

If you are asked to take a field sobriety test and politely decline, you will most likely be arrested anyway. At this point you still haven’t given the law enforcement officer any additional evidence to use against you, and now you can contact a skilled DUI defense attorney. The expertise of an experienced DUI defense attorney can drastically improve your chances in a court of law. A knowledgeable attorney can present you with vast legal options and protect your rights.

The Law Offices of Sifers & Sifers have successfully represented many clients charged with a DUI, DWI, or APC in Oklahoma. The Law Offices of Sifers & Sifers are committed to providing expert legal advice, using aggressive negotiation tactics, and fighting on behalf of their clients to ensure the best legal care possible. If you are in need of an experienced DUI defense attorney in Oklahoma, call the Law Offices of Sifers & Sifers today!


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