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What happens during field sobriety testing?

Driving under the influence (DUI) traffic stops may start with a few questions about someone’s recent activities. If police officers think someone may have had too much to drink, they can ask someone to perform field sobriety tests.

Drivers often don’t know what to expect during field sobriety tests, and may fail to make proper use of their rights as a result. What does field sobriety testing during a DUI traffic stop typically entail?

Police officers may administer three standardized tests

If a police officer wants field sobriety testing to have an influence on court proceedings, they need to follow best practices. They should perform standardized field sobriety tests recognized as scientifically useful.

The three standard field sobriety tests are the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg-stand test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The first two have self-explanatory names. They involve walking in a straight line, turning around and walking back or balancing on one leg. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test involves following an object with the eyes. Officers monitor people for muscle spasms that indicate chemical intoxication.

In addition to performing standardized tests rather than unique tests to gauge someone’s sobriety, officers should perform the test in a location where there is video footage of the test performance. They may also need to consider someone’s explanation about their performance, such as potential issues related to a diagnosed medical condition.

Those arrested for a DUI offense can sometimes raise questions about the accuracy of field sobriety tests or the appropriateness of including them in the pool of evidence if an officer did not administer the proper tests and create a video of the process.

Drivers don’t have to perform the tests

Contrary to what people often assume, police officers cannot force someone to perform a field sobriety test. Implied consent laws only relate to chemical testing after arrest, not field sobriety testing during a traffic stop. Drivers can potentially decline field sobriety testing without facing secondary charges or additional penalties.

Those accused of a DUI can also potentially use questions about field sobriety testing as part of their defense strategy. Learning about what to expect when an officer believes that someone may have committed a DUI offense may benefit anyone who regularly enjoys alcohol. Drivers who understand DUI laws and traffic stop procedures may have an easier time avoiding criminal charges.