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An Overview of Field Sobriety Testing

According to AAA’s DUI Justice Link, “The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of 3 tests performed during a traffic stop in order to determine if a driver is impaired.” AAA continues, “Developed in the 1970s, these tests are scientifically validated, and are admissible as evidence in court in a majority of states.”

Field Sobriety Tests (FST) are used by law enforcement to identify drunk drivers. During a DUI investigation, police may ask you to follow a set of simple instructions, such as standing on one leg or walking in a straight line. These tasks are simple for a sober person to complete, but difficult to execute under the influence of alcohol. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are three types of field sobriety testing:

  1. The One Leg Stand
  2. The Walk and Turn
  3. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

During the one leg stand, an officer will ask you to stand with your hands at your side and one foot raised several inches from the ground. Then, the officer will instruct you to count for 30 seconds. Failing the test may count as DUI evidence against you.

Like the one leg stand, the walk and turn test requires mental concentration and balance. During this test, the officer will instruct you to walk along a straight line, placing one foot in front of the other. After nine steps, you must turn and walk in the opposite direction.

The following actions could lead to a failed test:

  • Stepping away from the line.
  • Taking the wrong number of steps.
  • Using arms to balance.
  • Failing to follow instructions.
  • The final test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, does not involve balance and coordination. During the test, an office will instruct you to look at an object as he or she moves it across your field of vision. If your eyes are unable to follow the object smoothly, law enforcement may assume that you are under the influence.

What if I Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests?

This is where a lot of drivers get tripped up. They think that when the officer asks them to perform the field sobriety tests, they’re legally required to when they are not. Under California law, drivers are not legally required to perform the field sobriety tests and there is no penalty for refusing.

Our advice to drivers is that if you’re ever asked to step outside of your vehicle and perform the field sobriety tests, politely decline the officer’s request. Nothing good comes out of taking these tests. Usually, the tests are recorded on the patrol car’s dash cam or the officer’s body camera. If you fail the tests (which is easy to do), the officer will have “probable cause” to arrest you. And, any evidence captured on camera will be used against you in court to secure a conviction.

Related: Do I Have to Take the Field Sobriety Tests?

Note: If you are asked to take a breath or blood test and you refuse, your California driver license will be automatically suspended under the Implied Consent Law, so keep that in mind if you are asked to submit to a chemical test.

Need an Orange County DUI defense attorney? Contact the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. for a free case evaluation.