Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Florida
Defense from Our DUI Attorney Serving Broward County
In order to make a lawful DUI arrest, law enforcement must establish “probable cause,” which is a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed based on their observations. However, a swerving car or slurred speech isn’t always enough to “reasonably” convince an officer that someone is most likely intoxicated. As such, officers often turn to the tools at their disposal, field sobriety tests, in order to make this distinction and place someone under arrest.
Although police can infer impairment by looking at a driver and paying attention to how they speak, they may also use field sobriety tests (FSTs) to collect additional evidence that can be used to support an arrest or conviction.
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
A field sobriety test is a small task that’s designed to test someone’s intoxication level when stopped under suspicion of DUI. For many years, field sobriety tests were as widely varied as their results, and this led to extremely inaccurate and wrongful arrests. Today, after extensive study and refinement, there are three widely-implemented and utilized field sobriety tests that officers use, however, they’re not immune from error as well shall explain.
Unfortunately, most DUI suspects do take field sobriety tests, and they often wonder how their performance on these tests play a role in their case. At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Fort Lauderdale DUI lawyers represent numerous clients who took sobriety tests during a DUI stop. We know how to address these issues and effectively challenge them in court.
Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
While many people believe these tests are mandatory, they are not. You do not have to take a field sobriety test when stopped for DUI, and it is a wise decision to refuse them. Field sobriety tests are designed to provide police with more time to find evidence that can be used against a driver, and they are not an objective or accurate indicator of impairment. They cannot help you, and they should be avoided.
Types of Field Sobriety Tests
While some law enforcement agencies may administer different tests to drivers, most use a group of three primary roadside tests known as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. These tests are admissible evidence in most states, and they include the following:
Walk and Turn Test
The walk-and-turn test involves walking in a straight line for a number of steps specified by the law enforcement officer. After taking the steps, suspects will be required to turn on one foot and walk in a straight line back to where they started. This test allows police to monitor suspects for signs of impairment, particularly those that relate to balance.
One Leg Stand Test
The one-leg-stand test is similar to the walk and turn test in that it presses someone’s ability to perform a mental and physical task simultaneously, which becomes immensely more difficult when intoxicated. This test involves a suspect standing with their foot slightly above the ground. A law enforcement officer will ask the suspect to count to 30, and will also monitor the time.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is perhaps the most widely-used field sobriety test because of how easy it is to conduct and how reliable it is. Unlike other tests that check for divided mental capacity to prove intoxication, this test looks for something even simpler: your brain’s ability to control your muscles. This test allows a law enforcement officer to monitor for signs of involuntary eye movement that occurs when a person tracks an object at peripheral angles. With alcohol impairment, a person is more likely to exhibit horizontal gaze nystagmus or involuntary eye jerking.
Failure of Field Sobriety Tests
Although these tests are standardized evaluations used by law enforcement throughout Florida and the country, they are not definitive measurements of a person’s impairment. For example, physical disabilities or injuries can compromise a person’s ability to successfully perform these tests. Roadway and environmental conditions can also impact a suspect’s ability to successfully perform the walk and turn test or the one leg stand test.
Discuss Your Defense During a FREE Consultation
As former Florida prosecutors, our attorneys at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. have insight into the evidence law enforcement officers collect during DUI stops and the weight they hold when a suspect is prosecuted in a court of law. With this knowledge, they can effectively find ways to challenge field sobriety tests and refute them as evidence. This is part of the overall defense strategy that aims to dispute the government’s version of the facts against a defendant.
If you've failed a field sobriety test, our Fort Lauderdale DUI attorneys are available 24/7 to help. Contact us for a free consultation.
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