What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

If you are pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI), you will most likely be asked to submit to field sobriety tests. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding these tests, so to provide clarity and help you better understand your options, our criminal lawyers in Raleigh are sharing what you need to know.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

There are three standard field sobriety tests that a law enforcement officer may ask you to take to determine sobriety if they have reason to suspect you’ve been drinking, such as slurred speech or swerving while driving.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The officer will hold up their pen or finger and ask you to follow it with your eyes as they move it left to right. This tests how your eyes move, with the idea being that sober peoples’ eyes move in a smooth, fluid motion while intoxicated peoples’ eyes will move in a jerking motion. Even though it is scientifically validated, it’s often administered and interpreted incorrectly, leading to invalid results.

One Leg Stand

You’ll be tasked to stand on one foot while counting one-thousand one, one-thousand-two, and so forth for 30 seconds. You are unable to raise your arms, wobble, or put the other foot down or else you are seen as “failing” this test.

Walk and Turn Test

In order to mimic how your attention is divided while driving, the walk and turn test is made of two parts: instructions and walking. You are tasked with standing with your feet placed with the toe of one foot behind the heel of the other and your arms at your sides. Then take nine heel-to-toe steps turn in an instructed manner, walk back, while watching your feet and counting out loud. Anything from an improper turn to stepping off the line or starts walking too soon can be seen as failing this test.

Portable Breath Test

If the officer has reason to believe you are intoxicated following the three field sobriety tests, they will ask to administer the Portable Breath Test (PBT) which tests for the presence of alcohol. A number will be recorded, but these machines are often very imprecise so the number can’t be used in court, only whether alcohol is present on your breath.

Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are often seen as highly unreliable. There are so many factors besides drinking that can lead to failing the tests. Fatigue and even allergies can affect eye movements, while uneven ground, age, injury, or uncomfortable shoes can cause you to stumble or wobble during the walk and turn or one leg stand. Even the portable breath test may be calibrated incorrectly and thus, come back with incorrect results. However, if you fail these tests, these can be entered as evidence against you which can make your case that much more difficult to win.

Should I Refuse to Take Field Sobriety Tests?

If you are asked to perform roadside sobriety tests, you can refuse them, especially if you don’t feel you can pass the tests. You may be arrested under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and the court can use your refusal to show you are guilty, but your defense attorney can argue that you were refusing the tests because you know they are unreliable. You can also refuse to take the EC/IR-II Breathalyzer at the police station, but that will lead to an automatic 12-month license suspension.

Speak with a DWI Attorney in Raleigh Today

If you have been pulled over and are asked to take a field sobriety test, you do have the legal right to speak with an attorney. When you need a DWI attorney in Raleigh to represent you and advocate on your behalf, the experienced team at Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh is on your side. For a free consultation, call us today at (919) 845-6688 or fill out the form below to get started.

Free Consultation

  • By submitting this form, you are consenting to our privacy policy.