Field sobriety tests are generally awkward to perform and somewhat subjective to judge. They are used to develop probable cause to arrest you for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The results of some field sobriety tests are admissible in court to help prove you were intoxicated. However, there is no law requiring you to participate in these tests, so should you?
You should know that if you choose not to participate in field sobriety tests, it does not mean you get to drive away from a DUI stop. Here are three things that could happen if you refuse:
- The officer may arrest you anyway based on a professional opinion that you are impaired. An officer’s opinion is admissible in court and can be based on such things as smelling alcohol, observing bloodshot eyes, or spotting an open container of alcohol in the car. You would typically be taken to the station for an official blood- or breath-alcohol test.
- The officer may have a portable breathalyzer that can be used to give you a preliminary breath test. If you fail this preliminary test, the officer would use that as probable cause to arrest you and may then have you submit to a blood test.
- Even if the officer may not have enough evidence for probable cause, meaning that you should not be arrested, you may still be arrested. You would be left to challenge your arrest in court.
What field sobriety tests are commonly given in Tennessee?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only endorses three standardized field sobriety tests as reasonably accurate and sufficient to provide probable cause for arrest. Those three tests include:
The horizontal gaze nystagmus test: Nystagmus is an involuntary jerk by the eye. It occurs naturally in many people, especially when they look far to the side. In a person who is impaired by alcohol, however, the nystagmus may be exaggerated. Officers watch for nystagmus as you follow a moving object with your eye, at the eye’s maximum deviation and within 45 degrees of center. The HGN test given by an officer is not admissible in court in Tennessee.
The walk and turn test: Walking heel-to-toe, turning on one foot, and then walking heel-to-toe back to the beginning is called the “walk and turn test.” The idea is to test your ability to complete a task when your attention is divided. Note that certain physical problems and diseases or just lack of practice at such a test may affect a sober person’s ability to complete this test successfully.
The one-legged stand test: If you were asked to stand on one foot and lift the other about six inches off the floor, would you hop? Sway? Use your arms for balance? Put the raised foot down? The belief behind this test is that a sober person would be able to perform this minor balancing act, while an intoxicated person would find it challenging. However, there are a variety of issues that could cause a sober person to fail this test.
If you choose to perform field sobriety tests, you might fail even if you are sober or not over the legal limit. Failing tests in the eyes of the officer is likely to lead to your arrest and a blood-alcohol or breath-alcohol test at the station.
If you are arrested for DUI, there are often strategies available for an effective defense. Talk to a DUI defense attorney as soon as possible to fight for your license and prepare your defense.