Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) & Officer Observations
FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS:
Generally the officer will ask you to take the following field sobriety tests (FSTs):
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus: The officer will hold an object in front of your face and ask you to follow the movement of the object with your eyes without turning your head. The officer is looking for unsmooth eye movement or difficulty focusing on the object.
- Finger-to-nose: The officer will ask you to hold both arms out to the sides (in the shape of a “T”) and take one finger at a time and point to your nose. Difficulty holding your arms outstretched or staying balanced may be signs of intoxication.
- Romberg balance: Standing with your feet and toes together, you will be told by the officer to hold your head back and estimate 30 seconds.
- Walk and turn: The officer will instruct you to walk and then ask you to turn around and walk back. The officer is checking to see if you can perform a physical task while listening to instruction.
- Standing on one leg: Similar to the walk and turn test, the officer will instruct you to lift your left or right leg and then tell you when to put it down. The officer is looking to ability to follow instructions while remaining balanced.
Officers are supposed to determine whether you can follow instructions, keep your balance, and physically perform the “tests.” However, the tests are subjective, and there are many people who, for various innocent reasons, cannot perform these tests. The most important thing to know about the FSTs is that a skilled DUI defense lawyer will know how to handle them in court. In addition, the taking of FSTs is optional. You are perfectly free to politely refuse to take any FSTs.
OFFICER OBSERVATIONS (AFTER THE TRAFFIC STOP):
- Difficulty with motor vehicle controls (window, door, lights, etc.)
- Fumbling with driver’s license or registration
- Odor of alcoholic beverage from the driver
- Bloodshot/watery eyes
- Slurred speech or difficulty concentrating on speech
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle
- Repeating own questions or comments
- Providing incorrect information or changing answers
- Constant swaying or unsteady balance
- Leaning on the vehicle or other object
- Slow to respond to officer – officer must repeat questions or instructions
It is important to note that the officer’s observations are purely subjective. The fact is that there can be many legitimate reasons why, for example, a suspect’s eyes are bloodshot and watery which have absolutely nothing to do with impairment from alcohol or drugs. There are many reasons other than being under the influence that could cause people to exhibit these mannerisms; a good DUI defense attorney will explore those with you.