Field Sobriety Tests: What to Expect When You're Expecting a DUI.
Updated: Oct 4
We've all seen situations of the drunken fool standing on the side of the road, touching his nose while reciting The Gettysburg Address, hopping on one leg while counting backwards, or walking in a straight line while slurring the alphabet backwards. But if you're pulled over, and you're suddenly worried you'll be asked to step out of the car, what can you expect? Field Sobriety Tests (FST's), provide a whole battery of tests and information that can be used against you, in the event of a DUI arrest.
Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN):
Vertical Gaze Nystagmus is a jerking movement of the eyes up and down as a person follows a stimulus (like a finger or pen) that is moved from about eye-level to well above a person's head. Supposedly VGN indicates a particularly high Blood Alcohol Content.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN):
Similarly, this is the jerking movement of the eyes from left to right. Unlike VGN which indicates a "high" BAC (whatever that means), HGN is claimed to have a very high degree of accuracy at detecting a BAC of over .1%. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration lists this as the first field sobriety test usually administered.
The Walk and Turn:
This is a task meant to divide a person's attention between the physical and mental. One will usually be instructed to walk, heal to toe in a straight line for a number of steps, and turn. Sounds simple, right? Well, verbal instructions will be given prior to beginning, and the officer will be checking for stumbling, arm raising, overall balance, and adherence to instruction.
One Leg Stand:
Yet another divided-attention test, the one leg stand is what it sounds like. A person is left to stand on one foot while counting or reciting the ABC's. NHTSA claims this test provides an 83% accuracy that a person is at or above .08% if the test is administered in ideal conditions. That means a flat, dry road, with a person wearing . . . gym shoes? NHTSA also claims that a person with a BAC of .1% can often successfully complete this test for 25 seconds, but generally not 30.
Here, a person will be instructed to stand with eyes closed and arms extended horizontally. A person will then be instructed to touch the nose with the index finger, alternating right to left hand as instructed.
Each of these FST's carry a certain number of points for which the officer will be looking. Stumble while walking, raise your arms too high, fail to find your nose, you'll be racking up those points for the officer to use against you. So now you know what to expect if you find yourself in these situations.
But I don't wanna....
Now you might be thinking, "what if I just decline?" YOU SHOULD. These are optional. But know this: your declination/refusal to submit to a FST upon request will be used against you in court. But isn't that self incrimination? That's a great question. The answer is "Nope." Apparently your refusal isn't constitutionally protected, at least not in Arizona. But hey, evidence of refusal might be better than evidence of intoxication if you find yourself on the shoulder of a rocky desert road after a rainfall, or you suffer from a neurological disorder that could render some FST's wholly useless. Better you have an experienced DUI lawyer who can handle a defense for you.