Thoughts on Field Sobriety Tests

In this post, I offer one lawyer’s perspective on field sobriety tests. I can’t tell you how to beat field sobriety tests. But I hope to help you better understand field sobriety testing so you can make an educated decision should you be asked to perform any of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

It’s exceedingly rare for a subject to “beat” the Field Sobriety Tests.

In this writer’s opinion, the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are designed to be failed.

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of physical and mechanical tests which show alcohol impairment in the test subject. The SFST is designed to be field-expedient (i.e. suitable for regular use on the streets); the tests are short, always the same, and easy to administer. The SFST is great for the testing officer because it allows him or her to assess intoxication quickly and with minimal effort. The subject, on the other hand, is asked to perform a series of unnatural tasks in a high-pressure environment with minimal instruction. The subject is often performing these tasks for the first time.

Sample Instructions: Walk and Turn Test

These instructions are what you might hear from an officer about to administer the walk and turn test. The officer would first find a relatively straight line or oil mark in the test area, or instruct you to walk down an imaginary straight line. Then he or she would instruct you on how to perform the test and give a brief demonstration:

Start by assuming this position: left foot on the line, right foot in front, with the left toe touching the right heel. Keep your arms down at your sides. Hold this position until I finish the instructions, and don’t begin the test until I tell you to do so. Take 9 heel-to-toe steps down the line, turn around, and take heel-to-toe 9 steps back down the line. When you turn around, keep your front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot. Keep your arms at your sides. Watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud. Don’t stop the test until you’re finished. Do you understand my instructions?

I have a hard time imagining how this would look based on the instructions, and I am well-studied in the NHTSA field sobriety manual. Not remembering just one part of the instructions will likely lead to failure and arrest for DUI.

Field Sobriety Tests are not intuitive.

My biggest issue with the field sobriety test is that each one requires you to do something unnatural. It will probably be the subject’s first time counting steps aloud while making awkward heel-to-toe steps down a line, or counting aloud while standing on one leg while pointing the raised foot. (Yes, that’s a real test!) Most importantly, the subject must perform the tests in a stress-inducing environment as uniformed officers critique every move. The spotlight is on the subject, quite literally. There’s one attached to the windshield of most every squad car. These circumstances do not lend themselves to passing the tests, especially considering that the subject is likely to have consumed alcohol recently. To diffuse any misconception, the subject will not be allowed to contact his or her lawyer before taking the tests.

Drivers May Refuse Field Sobriety Testing.

At the time of this writing, there is no law mandating that Illinois drivers perform field sobriety tests when asked. However, implied consent laws do require drivers to give a blood, breath, or urine sample upon request. A driver’s refusal to perform field sobriety tests will be followed by a request for a sample of breath, blood, or urine. Refusal to comply with this request would result in arrest for DUI and summary suspension of the driver’s license.

Please remember that this post is informational in nature, and should not be taken as legal advice. The information in this post is for general purposes only and should not be interpreted to indicate a certain result will occur in your specific legal situation. Every case presents unique facts. Remember: staying sober or refusing to get behind the wheel are the only silver bullet tricks to beating a DUI. The information on this website is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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