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Field Sobriety Tests

Field Sobriety Tests: What Are They and Why Am I Being Asked to Perform Them?

What are field sobriety tests?

Police officers administer field sobriety tests in Columbus and throughout Ohio to establish probable cause for arresting people for operating a vehicle while impaired (OVI) by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. Researchers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed the ones most commonly used, and the Ohio Department of Public Safety believes that how suspects perform on the tests indicate whether they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher—above the legal limit in Ohio.

What are the three most common field sobriety tests?

The main tests officers use to determine if you are driving under the influence of alcohol are the following:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)—The officer asks you to watch a moving pen or similar object without turning your head. The HGN test is designed to let the officer track your eye movements. Uncontrolled jerks and flutters of your eyes can be interpreted as signs of intoxication.
  • Walk and Turn test—The officer asks you to maintain a straight line while taking nine steps heel-to-toe, to turn as instructed, and then to walk another nine steps heel-to-toe. During this test, an officer can suspect impairment if you lose your balance at any point. Other supposed signs of drunkenness include not touching your toe to your heel with each step and failing to follow instructions exactly as given. Even sticking out your arms while walking can create suspicion.
  • One-Leg Stand—The officer asks you to raise one foot off the ground and hold that position for 30 seconds while counting. Lowering your foot, sticking out your arms, and/or swaying can be taken as signs that you are too drunk to maintain your balance.

These are called the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, or SFSTs.

Why was I asked to step out of my car to perform field sobriety tests?

An officer will ask you to step out of your car for any number of reasons. But he’ll only ask you to perform field sobriety tests if he spotted something that made the officer think you were impaired by alcohol or drugs. This could have been slurred speech, fumbling with your license and registration, responding to questions slowly, or smelling like alcohol or marijuana.

What do I need to know when I am asked to perform field sobriety tests?

  • State law does not require you to agree to do the tests.
  • The tests are not considered scientific under Ohio law.
  • Despite not being considered scientifically valid, SFST results are often admissible in court as evidence of impairment

Do field tests for drugged driving exist?

Yes, and they are getting used more frequently.

In Ohio, officers who complete Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training can administer assessments such as a vertical gaze nystagmus test, a pupil assessment, and a lack of convergence test to collect evidence for an OVI arrest. These tests get conducted in addition to the SFSTs but are little understood. If you get arrested based on your performance on one of these extra tests, hire an attorney with experience handling drug-related OVIs.

Can I refuse to perform these tests?

Yes. The stakes for performing poorly are high, so you can choose to exercise your right to prevent incriminating yourself. Hint: Do so politely.

Are field sobriety tests always accurate?

No. Many medications and health conditions can make passing them difficult.

For example, nystagmus can affect individuals from birth, and the problem can develop after a stroke or head injury. People who have nystagmus all the time simply cannot perform an HGN test perfectly, even when stone-cold sober. Other examples like this include men and women with poor hearing who may miss and misconstrue an officer’s instructions, and heavy people or older individuals who can find remaining upright on one foot impossible under any conditions.

The realities are that field sobriety tests can produce false positives and that some officers conduct the tests sloppily. Inaccurately and poorly administered tests should never support an OVI charge, let alone a conviction. Make sure you hire an attorney that knows how to demonstrate these points to a judge or jury.

Does it matter which Columbus, Ohio, field sobriety tests attorney I hire to defend me against an OVI?

YES. A knowledgeable defense attorney will know how to present medical evidence that explains poor SFST performance. A skilled defense lawyer will also know how to challenge the way an officer conducted the OVI stop and how to demonstrate to a court if the officer carried out any part of the testing procedure improperly.

Campbell Law Stands Apart

Campbell Law stands apart from other field sobriety test lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, in its ability to aggressively defend OVI suspects.

  • April Campbell has been trained by and with law enforcement officers in the most up-to-date SFST and ARIDE techniques.
  • As a former prosecutor, April Campbell has handled a wide range of OVI cases, from more common misdemeanors to felonies—where prison time is on the line.

Call us for free or contact us online to see if we can help you with your case.