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What do police look for in field sobriety tests?

Flashing lights and sirens may have made you second-guess having that last drink with dinner. Once pulled over, the Louisiana officer approached your window and began asking you questions. At some point, the officer may have asked you to exit your vehicle.

Once out of the vehicle, the officer requested that you participate in field sobriety tests. Now, you have a decision to make -- should you participate or not? You do have the legal right to refuse, but you need to know that doing so may not prevent an arrest or possible ramifications. Knowing more about what police are looking for in the three most often used field sobriety tests, called the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, could help you make that decision.

What police look for during the walk-and-turn test

In this test, you will take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot and then do the same in reverse. This test is designed to look for the following indications of impairment:

  • Beginning the test before the officer completes the instructions
  • Using your arms for balance
  • Taking the wrong number of steps
  • Stopping as you walk in order to regain your balance
  • Failing to maintain your balance during the instructions
  • Failing to walk heel-to-toe
  • Losing your balance while turning

If you have any trouble with your balance, if traffic is loud or you experience any number of issues, you could fail this test.

What police look for during the horizontal gaze nystagmus test

Every person's eyes go through an involuntary jerking when they rotate their eyes to high peripheral angles. This movement starts sooner and is exaggerated in drunk drivers. As you follow an object with your eyes, the officer looks for the following:

  • Jerking beginning prior to your eyes reaching a 45 degree angle
  • Failing to smoothly follow the object with your eyes
  • Jerking becoming distinct when your eye reaches maximum deviation

Research indicates the test correctly indicates impairment in approximately 77% of subjects tested, which means that 23% of the time it does not.

What police look for during the one-leg stand test

As the name of the test indicates, the officer will request you stand with one foot around six inches off the ground counting from 1,001 for approximately 30 seconds while the officer looks for the following signs of impairment:

  • Putting your foot down
  • Swaying while you attempt to maintain your balance
  • Hopping in order to maintain your balance
  • Using your arms to balance

Again, balance plays a large role in this particular test. You could have trouble maintaining your balance for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with alcohol or drug impairment. Another factor that could skew the results of these tests is the officer. Whether you pass or fail these tests is subjective. The officer's biases are a factor that you cannot ignore.

Considering all of the issues that could arise during the SFST, it's no wonder that one of the first things to challenge if charged with DUI is the results of these tests, that is, if you decide to participate in them.

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