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Field Sobriety Tests: What Happens If I Fail?

March 24, 2016

When a South Carolina law enforcement officer suspects that a driver is drunk or otherwise impaired, it is standard protocol to administer three field sobriety tests to the driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed and standardized these tests over time, which are designed to help an officer determine whether an individual is impaired and merits further testing, such as measuring his or her blood alcohol content (BAC). However, a driver who fails field sobriety tests is not necessarily impaired, and will not automatically be convicted of DUI.
 

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

 
Horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN, occurs when you move your eyes from side to side, causing an involuntary jerking of the eyes. When a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol, his or her eyes will begin to jerk more quickly as they move from side to side. An officer administers the HGN test by asking the driver to follow the officer’s finger or a pen as he or she moves it from side to side. The driver is supposed to follow the finger or pen only using his or her eyes, not his or her head. If the driver’s eyes move in a jerky motion with distinct HGN at approximately a 45 degree angle, then there is evidence of HGN, which indicates impairment.
 

The Walk-and-Turn Test
 
The walk-and-turn test involves the officer instructing the driver to walk heel-to-toe on an imaginary line for at least nine continuous steps, with hands down, while counting out loud. The driver is then instructed to turn in a very specific way and walk back for nine steps in the same manner. Among the signs of impairment in the walk-and-turn test is an inability to maintain one’s balance, starting the test before being instructed to do so, and pausing for several seconds during the test. The officer also will look for the driver’s inability to properly walk heel-to-toe, veering off the imaginary line, using outstretched arms for balance, and an inability to turn as instructed.
 

The One-Leg Stand Test
 
The one-leg stand test is another field sobriety test that measures a driver’s impairment. The officer will ask the driver to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground for approximately 30 seconds, while keeping his or her arms to the side. An impaired person who stands on one leg tends to sway back and forth, use his or her arms for balance, hop in an attempt to gain balance, and put his or her raised foot down on the ground.
 

Failing One or More Field Sobriety Tests
 
While all of these field sobriety tests can yield clues as to whether a person is impaired, they certainly are not fool-proof. For instance, if an officer is not properly trained or accustomed to administering field sobriety tests, he or she may make a mistake to the extent that the test is unfair or yields inaccurate results. Additionally, in the state of South Carolina, drivers must videotape DUI traffic stops in their entirety, so failing to tape your field sobriety tests would be improper. The other aspect of field sobriety tests is to remember that there are conditions other than impairment by alcohol or drugs that might influence the test results. A health condition, medication, and overall poor balance might all contribute to a driver’s success in taking field sobriety tests.
 

Call Surasky Law Firm, LLC, for Legal Advice
 
Following your DUI arrest, it is essential that you contact experienced Aiken DUI defense attorneys at the Surasky Law Firm, LLC as quickly as possible. By handling your case from the very outset, we can gather the facts, examine the circumstances, and develop the best defense strategy in your case. Call our office today at 1-803-593-3912 or fill out the online information form.

 

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