Challenging Field Sobriety Tests

Police officer conducting sobriety test

The defendant’s performance on Field Sobriety Tests is often a key piece of evidence in a drunk driving case. Police officers commonly use these roadside tests to assess whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While police and prosecutors want you to believe the tests accurately indicate whether a driver has had too much to drink, Field Sobriety Tests are rife with problems that an experienced DUI defense lawyer can exploit to negotiate a more favorable resolution in your case.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Connecticut police officers use a combination of standardized and non-standard Field Sobriety Tests to evaluate whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They are trained to look for “clues” such as a lack of focus, poor coordination, and difficulty completing the tasks, and will evaluate how well the driver performed on the tests. Interestingly, however, a driver does not pass or fail the Field Sobriety Tests. Instead, the police officer may testify that a driver “did not perform the test as demonstrated and instructed.”

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). A police officer can use them to establish probable cause to arrest a driver for DUI. The NHTSA has established and approved the following three tests:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. A police officer moves a pen or finger in front of the driver’s eyes and looks for delays in tracking the object’s movement. In this test, the officer is looking for alcohol-induced nystagmus (an involuntary jerking of the eye), which can indicate the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Nystagmus can be caused by reasons other than alcohol.
  • One Leg Stand Test. Police officers use the One Leg Stand Test to assess a driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.
  • Walk and Turn Test. Police officers use the Walk and Turn Test to evaluate a driver’s balance and ability to stop and turn on command.

Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Some police officers use non-standard Field Sobriety Tests to assess whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even though the NHTSA has not approved these tests, some officers continue to use them.

Common non-standardized Field Sobriety Tests include:

  • Alphabet Test. The police officer asks you to recite the alphabet, part of the alphabet, or recite the alphabet backward.
  • Finger to Nose Test. The police officer asks you to touch one finger to your nose.
  • Numbers Test. The police officer will ask you to count to a number and backward from that number.

If you were asked to perform any of these non-standardized tests, a DUI defense attorney can challenge the reliability of the test and ask the court to declare the results inadmissible at trial.

Challenging Field Sobriety Tests In A Case

A skilled DUI defense lawyer will analyze your situation and identify ways to challenge the accuracy, reliability, and validity of the Field Sobriety Tests.

Did the Police Officer Have Reasonable Suspicion?

Before asking a suspect to perform Field Sobriety Tests, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion to believe a driver is impaired. To establish reasonable suspicion, police officers often cite an “odor of alcohol,” red or watery eyes, erratic driving, or slurred speech. If the officer cannot identify specific facts that made them believe a driver was under the influence, a DUI defense lawyer can challenge whether the officer had probable cause to believe a crime had occurred. Filing a Motion to Suppress Evidence that challenges the probable cause requirement can result in a reduction in charges or dismissal of your case.

Were the Tests Properly Administered?

You are not required to perform Field Sobriety Tests. But if you do, the officer must comply with the relevant standards and protocols when administering the tests. If the police officer does not follow the proper format, a DUI defense lawyer can file a Motion to Suppress Evidence asking that the defendant’s performance on the tests be excluded from trial.

Could a Medical Condition Impair Your Performance?

Before asking you to perform the Field Sobriety Tests, the police officer should ask about any medical conditions that could affect your ability to perform the tests. Many officers fail to ask this question, and even if they do, they may not understand how a particular medical condition could affect your performance. Common medical conditions that could affect your performance on the Field Sobriety Tests include:

  • Diabetes;
  • Drowsiness;
  • High blood sugar;
  • Low blood sugar;
  • Watery eyes due to allergies, exhaustion, etc.;
  • General illness;
  • Balance issues; or
  • Back pain, knee pain, or other physical injuries.

What Were the Testing Conditions?

A DUI defense attorney is also experienced in challenging Field Sobriety Test conditions. For example:

  • Was the roadway sloped?
  • Does the officer know how you would perform when you were not under the influence of alcohol?
  • Do you generally have poor coordination?

Contact The Lebedevitch Law Firm for Aggressive DUI Defense

If you were charged with a DUI in Connecticut, experienced legal representation is crucial. A successful DUI defense strategy will address multiple factors, such as whether the traffic stop was constitutional, how the police officer administered the Field Sobriety Tests, and the accuracy of any chemical tests that were conducted.

DUI defense attorney Stephen Lebedevitch will carefully evaluate the circumstances that led to your arrest and craft a compelling defense designed to reduce the charges or the severity of the penalties you face or to have the case against you dismissed.

The Lebedevitch Law Firm defends people accused of DUI in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Darien, Rowayton, Fairfield, Trumbull, Westport, Wilton, Weston, Danbury, New Haven, Bethany, Woodbridge, Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport, and throughout the State of Connecticut. To learn more, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

Categories: DUI