An overview of common field sobriety tests

Everyone knows that conducting a breath test is almost always the go-to method for a police officer to make a determination as to whether or not a driver who they have pulled over has been drinking alcohol. The results of these breath tests are usually taken for granted as 100 percent reliable - even if that is not true in every case. But, in most cases, a police officer conducting a DUI stop will ask the suspect to participate in other field sobriety tests as well.

The three most common field sobriety tests are the one-leg stand, the walk and turn and the test for horizontal gaze nystagmus - the test in which the suspect is usually asked to follow the point of a pen as the officer moves it back and forth in front of the suspect's face. When an officer conducts the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, what he is looking for is a jerking motion in the eye that happens in an exaggerated fashion when someone is under the influence of alcohol. An officer must be well-trained in what to look for in a DUI suspect if the results of this test are to be relied upon in a determination of intoxication.

The one-leg stand test is quite simple: the officer will ask the suspect to lift one leg off the ground and stand like that for a certain amount of time, usually about 30 seconds. The inability to pass this seemingly simple test could be one more bit of evidence that the officer uses in a determination of intoxication. But, it is important for this test to be conducted on level ground, and that the suspect does not have any medical conditions that would not allow for the test to take place.

Lastly, there is the walk and turn test - also commonly known as "walking the line." The suspect is asked to walk heel-to-toe for a set amount of steps, and then turn precisely and walk back. For most people who have not consumed alcohol, this is a fairly easy thing to do - and the failure of a suspect to complete this test successfully is also an indication of intoxication. Failure to pass any one of these tests - or all of them - could result in an arrest for drunk driving.

Source: FindLaw, "Field Sobriety Tests," accessed on Aug. 17, 2014

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