Field Sobriety Tests

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Field Sobriety Tests are typically performed after you are stopped and asked to exit your vehicle. The stopping officer wants you to perform these tests to determine whether you are impaired. As you may know, they are not easy tests and are designed for failure. The ‘standardized instructions read to you prior to performing the tests are verbal gymnastics’ to the extent they are somewhat unclear and verbose, designed to confuse you. We recognize that attempting to perform these tests for the first time at midnight with cars racing by, or trying to do them in a checkpoint scenario with people watching you, provides law enforcement with an unfair advantage.

There are three (3) standardized field sobriety tests used in the State of Florida.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus ( HGN) is usually the first field sobriety exercise that is used to determine possible impairment and it consists of three components. First, the officer will use a pen or stimulus and pass it in front of your eyes to determine if your eyes jerk back and forth. Second, the officer will hold a pen out to the periphery of each eye until the whites of the eyes are showing to determine if your eyes bounce. Lastly, the officer will conduct a test trying to gauge an onset at 45 degrees. As is blatantly obvious, these tests are very subjective by the officer, and have been extensively challenged over the years because of the problems with their execution.

The Walk and Turn is typically the second standardized test that is administered to determine impairment. During this exercise, you are told to stand on a white line with one leg in front of the other, touching heel to toe, while the officer reads the instructions and then demonstrates the test for you. Following the officer’s short and confusing demonstration, you will be asked to walk nine steps heel to toe down the line, then pivot, and walk nine steps back down the line touching heel to toe. During the exercise, you (1) must count out loud (2) must not use your arms for balance, (3) must touch heel to toe, and (4) must not wobble or sway. While you are performing the exercise, the officer stands of to the side, making comments or notations about the portions of the test you did WRONG the officer NEVER notes the portions you did properly. Again, this test is not easily performed, even when you are sober.

The One Leg Stand is the last exercise performed. This test, similar to the walk and turn, is designed to judge your balance and your ability to follow instructions. The officer will read you the instructions and demonstrate the test for you, which requires that you stand on one leg, raise the other leg straight out in front of you approximately 6 inches off the ground, stare at your foot and count out loud until the officer tells you to stop. You are not permitted to sway, use your arms for balance or bend your leg. If you put your foot down, you must immediately raise it back up and continue counting.

In certain circumstances, the arresting officer may require you to perform additional exercises, referred to as supplemental tests. They often include the finger-to-nose or alphabet tests. It has been our experience that these are used in situations where the officer is attempting to gain ‘additional’ evidence of your impairment.

Video Evidence. In many jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies videotape DUI arrests. Through the proper procedures, we are able to acquire the videotaped surveillance of your DUI arrest and, in many circumstances, use it to your advantage. For example, the officer is not required to note the portions of the test you did properly, and there is no way to ‘hear’ your speech merely by reading a police report. On video, we can see your demeanor, hear your speech and visually observe how you performed on the exercises. Typically, the State Attorney’s Office, as well as a jury, will believe what they see on a videotape, as opposed to a police officer’s report.