Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are an incredibly important component in DUI cases, which is why our DUI attorneys at the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. have become SFST certified instructors. All law enforcement officers use the same SFSTs for DUI stops. The standards are set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
There are three main types of SFSTs:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus or "HGN" testing
- Walk and turn test
- One-leg stand test
Note: Law enforcement can also use a combination of any of these three tests.
Everyone has some degree of nystagmus, impaired or not, but the nystagmus is exaggerated when a person is impaired by alcohol. A law enforcement officer can use an object, usually a pen or flashlight, and slowly move it side to side, asking the driver to follow it with his or her eyes. Here, the officer is looking for any one of three possible indicators of intoxication:
- The eyes are not following the moving object smoothly. Gaze appears broken and inconsistent.
- The eyes jerk or twitch heavily.
- The jerking or twitching eye motion is within 45 degrees of the center.
Walk and Turn Test
This is one of the two "divided attention" tests, the one-leg stand being the other. The law enforcement officer will instruct the driver to take nine steps, one foot in front of the other, and then turn around and walk back the other direction. Law enforcement will look for indicators of intoxication such as poor balance, stops or begins the test without waiting for instruction, swaying, using arms to balance, failing to touch heel to toe, and more.
The law enforcement officer will instruct the driver to stand on one leg, with the other approximately six inches off the ground, for about 30 seconds. Swaying, putting the foot down, or using arms to balance are all potential indicators of intoxication.
Are You Required to Take the SFSTs?
Unlike the chemical tests (blood and breath), there is no penalty for refusing to take the field sobriety tests; you are not required by law to take these tests. We just recommend that when you refuse, you do it in a polite manner. If you don’t have to take these tests, what is the purpose of them? Officers ask drivers to take these tests so they can gain “probable cause” to make a DUI arrest. Not only that, but field sobriety tests are typically recorded on the officer’s dash cam or on their body camera, or both. Later, any such evidence would be used against the DUI defendant in court.