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What are field sobriety tests?

What are field sobriety tests?

A standard part of being arrested for DUI is the officer asking you to perform field sobriety tests. Although you have an absolute legal right to refuse to participate, most people go along with the officer's request. 

Police officers have been trained to request motorists to perform these tests when they suspect that they might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  The three most common tests include the HGN, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand. These three are also the only standardized tests that an officer can perform. Sometimes officers will ask you to do additional tests (finger-to-nose, ABC test, count backwards, etc.). Those tests are not standardized, part of the officer's training, and are not backed by any validation tests. 

What most people don’t know is that these field sobriety tests have specific rules of administration that the officer must follow when giving the tests. NHTSA (National Highway Transport Safety Administration) has conducted several studies over the years to determine how someone’s performance on these tests can indicate whether they have a certain amount of alcohol, or BAC, in their system. These standardized tests are also the same tests used by every police agency throughout the country who screens people for DUI.

Properly administered, the field sobriety tests can only determine if there is a likelihood of someone having some quantity of alcohol in their system. These tests do not determine actual impairment that would prevent someone from safely driving. Standard field sobriety tests also do properly evaluate possible non-alcohol impairment, such as from prescription drugs, although the tests and reported results are frequently used by the court for that purpose. 

South Carolina law requires that the administration of field sobriety tests be video-recorded by the officer. If that recording is not made it can result in a dismissal of the DUI charge, regardless of other circumstances. When the tests are recorded it gives us an opportunity to evaluate how the officer administered the test, and whether or not the officer's findings were consistent with the actual performance. It is not unusual for us to find after evaluating a DUI arrest that the officer either failed to properly administer the field sobriety tests, gave incomplete or inaccurate instructions to the officer, or made inaccurate findings.

About the Author

Vicki D. Koutsogiannis is a South Carolina DUI defense attorney. She is a member of the National College of DUI Defense and has been recognized as a Top 40 under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers' Association. She also has a 10.0 rating by Vicki has completed the training  based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's DUI Detection and Field Sobriety Testing curriculum, as well as the supplemental program Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement. She also recently completed the National College of DUI Defense 2018 Summer Session held at the Harvard Law School. 

You can schedule a free consultation with her about your DUI case by calling (888) 301-3532.



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