When someone is pulled over by police on suspicion of DWI, one of the things society has come to expect are standardized field sobriety tests, but many don’t actually understand the tests role in the investigation. Furthermore, most don’t know that they can and should refuse to do these tests.
When an officer asks you to perform standardized field sobriety tests, they are referring to three tests in particular: (1) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, (2) Walk-and-Turn, and (3) One-leg Stand. Each of these tests have specific procedures, set out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the following is a quick summary. Be sure to check out our Facebook page for videos on each of these tests being done by a sober individual (spoiler alert: they failed).
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (also known as HGN or “the eye test”) is done by the officer smoothly moving an object, such as a pen, from side to side in various ways, in front of the suspect’s field of vision and checking for an involuntary jerking of the eyes, as the eyes follow the object. This is one of those tests that you can’t tell if you “passed”, because you can’t see what your own eyes are doing.
Walk and Turn
The Walk-and-Turn is pretty self-explanatory and is done by the officer asking the suspect to walk nine steps in a straight line, stepping heel-to-toe, turning around, and walking back another nine steps in a straight line, again stepping heel-to-toe without using your arms for balance. Seems simple, trust us, it’s not. The turn isn’t as simple as it sounds, it’s a very specific turn.
One Leg Stand
Lastly, the One-Leg stand is done by the officer asking the suspect to stand straight, arms down at the side, and stand on one leg, while the other leg is held straight, toes pointing forward about 6 inches off the ground. The officer will then ask the suspect to count out loud, ‘one-thousand and one, ‘one-thousand and two, etc.’ The test is conducted by the defendant for 30 seconds. Think that’s easy, try it! Did you put your foot down? Did you mess up when you counted?
Why the Tests?
The role of standardized field sobriety tests in the investigation is to provide the officer with evidence of appreciable impairment. Appreciable Impairment is evidence that the defendant’s mental and/or physical faculties were inhibited by an impairing substance (alcohol, drugs, prescription drugs…). The officer is asking you to perform these tests because every mistake or “clue” of impairment you show gets the officer closer to probable cause. The law requires the officer have probable cause to make an arrest. Therefore, the less evidence the officer has to build his case for probable cause, the better. Basically, DON’T DO THE ROADSIDE TESTS!!
It is crucial to refuse to perform the field sobriety tests because by doing so you severely limit what the officer can hang his cap on when asked what his probable cause to arrest was. Furthermore, it is your right to refuse these tests. There are no consequences for a driver to enforce their constitutional right to refuse to provide the officer with evidence in their case, (however, this does not apply to blowing into the breath-testing machine after your arrest).
Lastly, something we hear all the time is “well the officer said he would go easy on me if I cooperated,” the truth is, officers lie, and their job is to investigate illegal activity, and regardless of what the officer says, by performing the field sobriety tests, you are only helping the officer prove his case against you.
At Matheson & Associates we pride ourselves on our knowledge and experience with resolving DWI matters, so if you ever find yourself pulled over, with blue lights behind you, remember to call Matheson & Associates! We offer free consultations and no-interest payment plans! Our staff will give you a detailed consultation about your case and will answer any questions you may have.