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What field sobriety tests are used in drunk driving charges?

We have often discussed cases in which people are asked to do field sobriety tests when a law enforcement officer has the belief that the person is driving under the influence of alcohol. While many officers rely on chemical tests, such as Breathalyzers and blood tests, some officers use the field sobriety tests. There are three tests that are in the Standardized Field Sobriety Test that are used to provide an indication of impairment that allows the officer to have probable cause to arrest the person. Our New York readers might find the information about these tests interesting.

What are the three tests in the SFST?

The one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn and the horizontal gaze nystagmus are the three standardized field sobriety tests used. These three tests were part of research done by the Southern California Research Institute that was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These are the only three field sobriety tests that the NHTSA provides training about to law enforcement officials.

What is the one-leg stand test?

The one-leg stand test is a 30-second test that involves picking the foot about six inches off the ground. With the foot off the ground, the person is asked to count by thousands. If the person has two or more indicators on this test, the person has a likelihood of impairment.

What is the walk-and-turn test?

The walk-and-turn test involves taking nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line. After those steps, the person has to turn and take the same walk back to the starting point in the manner. This test has eight impairment indicators that can signal impairment. If a person has two of the eight indicators, there is a likelihood of impairment.

What is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test?

A person who is impaired by alcohol isn't likely to have smooth movements of the eye when tracking objects horizontally. To do this test, the law enforcement officer has the person follow a slow moving object from side to side. In order to be a marker for impairment, there must be four or more clues present between both eyes.

Anyone who is asked to do a field sobriety test might get nervous. While the SFST is a standardized test, there is still room for errors. Those who have gone through this battery of tests and now face charges should learn about their options for defense in New York.

Source: United States Department of Transportation, "Appendix A Standardized Field Sobriety Testing" Jan. 07, 2015

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