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Why Do People Fail Field Sobriety Tests?

Posted by John C. Taylor | Dec 02, 2017 | 0 Comments

Field sobriety tests have become the gold standard for law enforcement officers in determining whether an individual is impaired. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has concluded these field sobriety tests are indeed reliable indicators of alcohol impairment. Then why, in some cases, does the person in question fail a field sobriety test, even though they are not impaired?

What is a “field sobriety test”?

Field sobriety tests are physical tests utilized by law enforcement offers to determine whether someone is impaired. The three most common field sobriety tests are the following:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN):This test takes advantage of the human body's irregularities to determine impairment. The eye has an involuntary twitch that occurs when an individual looks sideways at an angle greater than 45 degrees. When a high blood alcohol content is present, the brain cannot properly control eye muscles, and the eyes twitch when the light is placed at an angle of less than 45 degrees
  • Walk and Turn: By dividing an individual's attention between physical and mental tasks, impairment is determined. A law enforcement officer instructs the person to take nine steps — heel-to-toe – in a straight line, then turn around on one foot and return to the starting point in the same fashion. By observing this test being performed, the law enforcement officer will note any indicators of impairment.
  • One Leg Stand: This test requires you to stand with one foot placed six inches off the ground and your toe pointed. You will then be asked to count by thousands for thirty seconds, while looking down at your foot and keeping arms at your sides. The police officer will observe, looking for certain indicators of impairment.

Improper administration of field sobriety tests

If field sobriety tests are improperly administered, that can affect the outcome of the tests. While law enforcement officers are properly trained to administer the field tests, should any of the standardized elements change during the course of administering the test, then the validity is compromised.

Conditions for tests can affect the results

Rarely do perfect conditions exist for administering field sobriety tests. Weather conditions, such as wind, rain, or snow, darkness, uneven road surfaces, and nearby traffic can all influence how an individual completes the tests.

Not properly following test directions

Being pulled over by a police officer under the suspicion of impairment is frightening, and most people are nervous, anxious, worried, and stressed about the whole situation. This can all cause mental distraction. Combine that state of mind with flashing lights from the police car, and loud sounds from cars passing by, and it can be quite difficult to fully comprehend the officer's instructions.

Did you fail a field sobriety test while sober? Contact leading Murfreesboro DUI lawyers today for help

It is not unusual for a sober individual to fail a field sobriety test. Having qualified legal counsel by your side to present your case can make all the difference in the outcome. The criminal defense attorneys at Dotson & Taylor Attorneys at Law are experienced in handling in all facets of DUI charges and aggressively advocate on your behalf. Contact our office today at 615-890-1982 or online to schedule a free confidential consultation to discuss your case.

About the Author

John C. Taylor

John C. Taylor is a Murfreesboro native and a graduate of Oakland High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from Furman University in Greenville, SC, where he participated in the Furman Advantage Research program, studying religion in American politics. John also earned his Master's degree.


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