A field sobriety test is a tool used by law enforcement officers to determine whether an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is important for drivers to understand their rights as they pertain to being asked to take a sobriety test after being pulled over. Here, Maryland DUI defense attorney Jeffrey Scholnick provides an overview of the field sobriety test and your rights as a driver.
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
A standard field sobriety test may be employed after a driver is pulled over and suspected to be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other impairing substances.
What is the purpose of Field Sobriety Tests?
The theory behind the field sobriety test (FST) is to make the driver perform two things at the same time. The tests are devised to make you fail in attempting these tests if you are impaired. By trying to make you do two things at once, it is similar to driving when you are confronted with a distraction such as another vehicle or debris in the road.
However, in order to represent his clients, Jeff Scholnick has been certified in the FST after a grueling three-day class administered through the Maryland Association of Justice. Mr. Scholnick took this course to better understand whether the FSTs were correctly administered and to provide the best possible defense for his clients.
It is clear, after taking the course, that the purpose of the FSTs is to fail you so that you can be arrested and taken to the police station to perform the breathalyzer. The reason is that there are too many distractions when trying to perform these: from the cars passing to the weather conditions; from your own fatigue at 3am in the morning to the mere stress of performing the tests on an uneven roadside. The police want to get you in the station to administer the test that they believe will show you are intoxicated.
How Does a Field Sobriety Test Work?
There are three distinct parts of a standardized field sobriety test as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
During an HGN test, a law enforcement officer will use a stimulus, whether it be a flashlight, pen or otherwise, to track an individual’s eye motions by moving the stimulus from side to side in front of their face. This test tracks whether the nystagmus of the eye is heightened due to intoxication. Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking motion of the eyeball that occurs when the eye tracks an object that is moving in a side-to-side motion. When an individual is under the influence, their side-to-side gazing will most likely exhibit exaggerated nystagmus.
The walk-and-turn test is used to analyze an individual’s balance and ability to follow directions in order to determine whether the individual is intoxicated. In a walk-and-turn test, the individual under question is asked to take nine steps, heel-to-toe fashion, in a straight line, then turn on one foot and walk back. During the walk-and-turn test, a law enforcement officer will analyze whether the individual uses their arms for balance, starts before the officer says so, takes an incorrect number of steps, steps off of the straight path or fails to walk heel-to-toe, among other indicators.
The one-leg-stand test is utilized by law enforcement officers to determine an individual’s balance. During the one-leg-stand test, the individual under observation is directed to stand with their feet together and arms at their sides. The individual is then told to lift one leg approximately six inches off of the ground and count aloud from 1000 until informed to stop. During the one-leg-stand test, the officer directing the test is specifically looking for whether the individual uses their arms for balance or excessively sways, hops or moves in order to regain balance, among other indicators.
Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
While a field sobriety test can be refused, there may be consequences in doing so. If an individual rejects the request to take a field sobriety test, this may result in the officer assuming that they are indeed under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and therefore, the refusal of a field sobriety test may result in the individual being arrested and subject to further sobriety tests at the police station. If an individual who refused a field sobriety test turns out to be intoxicated after further testing in completed, the penalties are often more severe, including fines, license suspension and possibly jail time.
In addition, the choice to refuse a sobriety test can also lead to interlock. An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer connected to one’s vehicle—in order to start your car, you first must blow into the device to prove that you are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a law enforcement officer requires you to use an interlock device, this could prove problematic for those who drive a work vehicle or rental car or otherwise depend on a vehicle to perform a certain task.
While an individual who passes a field sobriety test may be further subjected to additional sobriety tests at the police station, or directed to perform a roadside breathalyzer test, their initial passing of the field sobriety test can aid them in court, as their DUI defense Attorney, such as Maryland DUI defense attorney Jeffrey Scholnick, can assert that there was not a probable reason for the individual to be stopped and arrested.
Speak to Maryland DUI Defense Attorney Jeffrey Scholnick Regarding Field Sobriety Tests
Driving under the influence is a serious offense, which is why the DUI defense attorney Jeff Scholnick urges you not to let one bad decision impact the rest of your life. If ever faced with these circumstances, it is important to understand your rights concerning field sobriety tests and to secure a dedicated DUI defense attorney to represent you and work to ensure the greatest outcome. If you need to speak to a Maryland DUI defense attorney, contact Scholnick Law today.