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Can sobriety be subjective?

Between movies, friends and firsthand experiences, there is an image in your head when you think about field sobriety tests. For many, it is probably the image of someone trying to walk heel-to-toe down a straight line.

Officers perform field sobriety tests to determine if they should move forward with an arrest and DUI charges. Unfortunately, the officer is the only one watching how you perform the test and it is up to him or her whether you pass or fail.

These are the some of the problems that can come with field sobriety tests.

The officer may have already decided

By the time an officer is asking you to perform a sobriety test on the side of the road, he or she may have already decided that you "seem intoxicated." At this point, the officer has already observed you driving and had a conversation with you. Consider that the officer may have already drawn a conclusion based on clues, including:

  • Errors made on the road
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Smell of alcohol on your breath

When officers are taught how to give a field sobriety test, they are instructed to look for certain "clues" and if they observe a certain number of clues, they presume that you are intoxicated.

What do the clues mean?

Many people claim that they are not able to pass a field sobriety test even when they are sober. Unfortunately, the standard is even more subjective than that. For example, the "walk and turn" test is about more than simply walking the prescribed number of steps and returning while staying in a straight line. Officers are instructed to look for the following clues:

  • Difficulty balancing while listening to instructions
  • Starting too soon
  • Stopping during the test
  • Not touching heel-to-toe
  • Stepping off the line
  • Using arms to balance
  • Taking the wrong number of steps
  • Turning incorrectly

If the officer thinks you are demonstrating two or more of these clues, he or she will presume you are impaired at or above 0.08 percent BAC. In a moment you can go from making your way home to facing expensive DUI charges.

You are not required to submit to field sobriety tests. If you are arrested for DUI, whether you have taken field sobriety tests or not, you should consult an experienced DUI attorney.

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