If you have ever watched an episode of “Cops” or another law enforcement based reality television show, you have undoubtedly watched a police officer conduct a driving under the influence (DUI) investigation. While some of the more egregious examples of drunk driving field sobriety tests make for hilarious entertainment, you probably won’t find it quite as funny if you are the one pulled over to the side of the road waiting for a police officer to approach your window. Hopefully, you will not get behind the wheel after consuming enough alcohol to put you anywhere close to the legal limit; however, whether you are intoxicated or stone cold sober, the more you know about the field sobriety tests (FSTs) you will be asked to perform, the better off you are. With that in mind, the Sarpy County DUI attorneys at Petersen Law Office explain some FST basics.
Do I Have to Perform the Field Sobriety Tests?
It is always a good idea to have a firm understanding of your legal rights anytime you are stopped by a police officer. You cannot be compelled to perform the FSTs that you will likely be asked to perform if an office suspects you are driving under the influence. Furthermore, the results of those tests cannot be used against you in a court of law; however, the results can be used to provide the probable cause necessary to arrest you. One thing to consider that a law enforcement officer is unlikely to volunteer – it is the officer that administers the FSTs who decides whether or not you pass the tests.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
By law, a law enforcement officer may use any field sobriety tests he/she wishes to try and determine if a driver is operating a vehicle while under the influence. Most law enforcement agencies, however, have a policy that requires the officer to use the three standardized tests that have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA. Those tests include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test — according to the NHTSA, “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol-impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object.” The HGN test involves the officer using a pen light, or similar instrument, and asking the subject to track it as it is moved from the center of the subject’s field of vision over to one side and back. When administered properly, and graded objectively, the HGN test can be relatively accurate at detecting impairment. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye:
- if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly
- if jerking is distinct and sustained nystagmus when the eye is at maximum deviation
- if the angle of onset of jerking is prior to 45 degrees of center.
- Walk and turn – a subject it required to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment:
- if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
- begins before the instructions are finished
- stops while walking to regain balance
- does not touch heel-to-toe
- uses arms to balance
- steps off the line
- takes an incorrect number of steps
- makes an improper turn.
- One leg stand – a subject must stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment including:
- swaying while balancing
- using arms to balance
- hopping to maintain balance
- putting the foot down.
Contact Sarpy County DUI Attorneys
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in the State of Nebraska, contact an Sarpy County DUI lawyer at Petersen Law Office 24 hours a day at 402-513-2180 to discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer.
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