In our third and final blog about each of the three tests included in theStandardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), we will take a closer look at the one-leg stand. This "divided attention" test is used to gauge a subject's ability to listen to and then perform instructions for a simple physical activity. This is meant to provide an indicator of whether a subject is intoxicated. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these tests are easily performed by sober people but "impaired persons have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between simple mental and physical exercises."
Understanding the ins and outs of field sobriety tests is important for any driver, as these can provide the foundation for a DUI arrest or for criminal DUIcharges. An arresting officer may use a driver's performance on the SFST to establish probable cause and make an arrest for DUI. An officer's report regarding a driver's SFST test results may also be used to prove that he or she was "under the influence" of alcohol. A driver can be convicted of DUI not only for having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, but for having abilities that are impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.
How is the one-leg stand administered?
In the one-leg stand test, a subject is asked to stand on one foot with the other approximately 6 inches off the ground. The subject is also instructed to count aloud by thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one thousand-three and so on) until instructed to place the foot back down on the ground. The test is to be conducted for 30 seconds, which the officer should time. In administering the one-leg stand test, the officer will look for the following indicators in the subject:
- The subject sways while balancing on one foot;
- The subject uses his or her arms to balance;
- The subject hops to maintain balance; and
- The subject puts the foot down before instructed to do so.
According to NHTSA-funded research carried out by Stuster and Burns in 1998, 83% of subjects that exhibit two or more of the above indicators in the one-leg stand will have a BAC of .08% or greater, which is above the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.
Issues with the One-Leg Stand and Other Field Sobriety Tests
There are various issues that may arise and affect the accuracy of the one-leg stand test. This is a physical test, meaning elderly and overweight subjects may have trouble properly performing the test regardless of the level of alcohol in their systems. The conditions in which the test is administered may also influence its outcome. Trying to balance on one leg on uneven pavement or gravel, in high-heeled shoes, in the rain, in the dark or while facing the flashing lights of a police cruiser can be extremely difficult. Passing cars and pedestrians can provide unnecessary distractions.
The one-leg stand should be conducted in conditions that do not set a subject up to fail, and the officer administering the test should be fair in his or her assessment of the subject's performance. The officer should also give clear, straightforward instructions to avoid confusion. Deviations from test protocol can unfairly affect a subject's performance and may provide grounds for an effective DUI defense.
At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, we represent drivers in Orange County who have been pulled over and arrested for DUI. The investigation and analysis of field sobriety tests is one of the key parts of our DUI defense strategy. We may be able to review the officer's report, look at video of the test as recorded from the police cruiser or cross-examine the arresting officer to find testing errors or other problems that may have affected the outcome of our client's test. We can use this as one of the weapons in our arsenal against a client's DUI charges.
It is important to remember that, although you may have "failed" the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn or horizontal gaze nystagmus, there are ways to challenge these tests and other evidence that law enforcement and the prosecution have brought against you. Your case does not have to be hopeless – involve anOrange County DUI lawyer who has the skill, experience and resources to challenge your charges and offer you the best chance at a dismissal or acquittal.