When a motorist is pulled over by a police officer under the suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a series of field sobriety tests may be given to the driver. The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established these field sobriety tests as a standard to determine if motorists were under the influence of a substance when operating a motor vehicle.
Physical field sobriety tests are used by police offers to make a decision in the field whether or not a driver is impaired due to the use of alcohol or drugs. The three standard types of field sobriety tests are as follows:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (tests jerking of eyes when tracking objects)
- Walk and Turn Test (tests balance and the ability to follow instructions)
- One Leg Stand Test (tests balance)
Field Sobriety Tests as Evidence in Court
To secure a conviction for a DUI charge, a prosecutor must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The results of a field sobriety test can be submitted as evidence in court to help meet that burden. However, your attorney can also challenge the admissibility of these tests by raising issue with the accuracy of the test results or the violation of your constitutional rights in obtaining the evidence.
Accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are only as good as the police officers who administer them. While the NHTSA cites numerous legal statutes that argue the legal admissibility of these results, it is important to note that these tests are only accurate if administered correctly.
However, in most jurisdictions, police officers are trained extensively in field sobriety testing, and proving that the test was administered improperly will be challenging.
Violation of Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure. In order to pull you over and administer a field sobriety test, a police officer must have probable cause. An exception to this rule is a DUI checkpoint, which must function under its own set of rules in California.
While it may be difficult to do, if your attorney can prove that the police did not have probable cause to pull you over, then any evidence — including the results of the field sobriety test — may be inadmissible in court.
Refusal to Take a Field Sobriety Test
In most states, you have the right to refuse to take any field sobriety tests. Oftentimes, a police officer has already made a determination based on your behavior and driving that they will arrest you for a DUI, so refusing to take the tests would not change the outcome of your situation. Even if you passed a field sobriety test, and an officer believed you were under the influence of a substance, they would still have the legal right to arrest you for a DUI.
Contact a DUI Attorney
If you are facing DUI charges, any field sobriety tests you take, or any contact you have with police officers could be used against you in a court of law. DUI charges can follow you throughout your life, and a DUI conviction can include possible fines, suspension of a driver’s license, and time in jail. If you, a friend, or a family member has been arrested for a DUI, contacting an experienced DUI attorney will help protect your rights.
With more than 15 years of experience handling DUI cases for the accused, the Law Office of Christopher J. McCann brings extensive knowledge, skill, and experience representing clients in Santa Ana and throughout Orange County who have been charged with DUI with injury and other serious DUI offenses, including DUI with great bodily injury ("GBI"), vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide.