Field Sobriety Tests

DUI Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

What are FSTs?

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are a series of tests commonly administered to DUI suspects for the stated purpose of evaluating their sobriety. In many cases, however, the investigating officer has already decided to arrest the suspect before administering any FST, based on his personal observation of the suspect. In cases such as this, the test is used, not to determine sobriety, but to gather evidence to use against the suspect in court. With some variation from one police agency to another, the FST usually includes:

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Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is the medical term that describes involuntary jerking or trembling of the eyeball that may occur as a subject visually tracks a moving object from side to side. Holding an object such as a pen or small flashlight about 12 inches in front of the subject’s face, the police officer moves the object from side to side. The subject is instructed to track the movement of the object without moving his or her head. As the test proceeds, the officer carefully observes the subject’s eyes, watching for the onset of nystagmus. The early onset of nystagmus may be an indication that the subject has been drinking. On the other hand, there are a great many causes for lateral gaze nystagmus that have nothing to do with alcohol consumption. Moreover, almost everybody over the age of 40 suffers from nystagmus to some extent.

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Walk and Turn Test

In this test, the subject is instructed to take a specified number of heel-to-toe steps along an imaginary straight line, then turn around and take the specified number of heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction. This test has several different aspects, one of which is evaluation of the subject’s ability to remember and follow instructions. The officer wants to see whether the subject is able to remember how many steps to take. Does the subject remember to walk “heel-to-toe?” Throughout the test, the officer is evaluating the subject’s physical coordination. Is the subject able to walk in a straight line? Does the subject have difficulty maintaining balance, either walking heel-to-toe or in turning around?

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Standing on One Leg

In this test, the subject is asked to stand with heels together, keeping both arms at the side. Then the subject is required to raise one foot six inches off the ground while counting out loud until instructed to stop counting. Is the subject able to stand on one leg without swaying, hopping, or putting the foot down? Is the subject able to maintain balance without raising his or her arms?

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Finger to Nose Test

In this test, the officer evaluates the subject’s physical coordination and the ability to follow instructions. The subject is required to stand erect with eyes closed and feet together, and to touch the tip of first one and then the other index finger to the tip of the nose. The officer checks and records the extent of the subject’s success in touching the tip of the nose. Even if the subject touches the tip of the nose, failure to employ the “tip” of the index finger will be graded “unsatisfactory.” The officer also looks to see whether the subject remembers to close the eyes. Does the body sway back and forth during the test? Are there apparently involuntary tremors of the body or eyelids during the test?

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The Rhomberg Balance Test

In this test, the subject is required to stand at attention, arms at the sides, with the eyes closed and the head tilted back and to remain in that position for a stated period of time – usually 20 or 30 seconds. The officer is evaluating the subject’s ability to stand still without opening the eyes or raising the arms to maintain balance. Is the body swaying in any direction? Do there appear to be involuntary body or eyelid tremors? How accurately does the subject comply with the time period assigned?

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Miscellaneous Tests

Other FSTs commonly in use include counting backward and writing or reciting the alphabet. Singing “The Alphabet Song” is not regarded as satisfactory performance. There are various other tests involving manual dexterity administered by some agencies or officers.

The officer will be listening carefully throughout the test, writing down any statements or admission the subject may make which can be used in court to strengthen the prosecution case at trial. There is no need for any sort of confrontation with the officer, but there is no need for idle chatter either. Neither one is likely to result in the subject’s immediate release, and idle chatter can cause significant harm to the defense, in the event there is an arrest.

Many of the FSTs involve testing for physical coordination and mental concentration. Certainly, it is possible that poor performance on the FSTs may indicate intoxication. On the other hand, it may just be an indication that the subject has poor coordination, or was under a lot of stress during the test.

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Do I have to take an FST?

No. You are not legally required to submit to an FST, and unless you have a high level of confidence that you will do well, you might want to consider “respectfully declining” to do the tests. Many people find that a DUI encounter with the police dramatically increases levels of tension and anxiety, even where they have consumed no alcohol whatsoever.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and accused of a drunk driving-related crime and require the immediate professional services and trusted legal advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, please contact The Law Office of John T. (Tommy) Kirk today at (334) 264-1498, or use the contact form provided on this site to schedule your initial consultation.

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