Nationwide, drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence can be subjected to randomized police stops that involve conducting field sobriety tests. These tests are described as simple methods of testing the physical and cognitive abilities of a person whose sobriety is in question. Regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines for field sobriety tests are meant to provide an accurate portrayal of a person’s level of intoxication.
There are both standardized and non-standardized methods of testing a person’s level of intoxication. Field sobriety tests are those that are commonly referred to as the standardized methods of determining whether or not someone has been driving under the influence. Non-standardized tests include counting backward, counting the number of fingers raised by an officer, tipping the head back while standing with feet together, and reciting the alphabet or a portion of it. Typically, the following methods of non-standardized methods are utilized to assess the intoxication level of a person who is suspected of driving under the influence in the state of California:
Hand-Pat Test: Drivers are asked to extend one hand in front of them, palm facing up. Drivers are instructed to place the other hand on top of the first hand, palm facing down. The driver is then expected to use the upper hand to pat the lower hand, rotating the upper hand between positions of palm facing up and palm facing down.
Rhomberg Stationary Balance Test: Drivers are asked to stand with their feet together and lean their head back to look up at the sky, while simultaneously holding out their arms to the side.
Finger-to-Nose Test: Drivers are required to close their eyes and bring one finger toward their face to touch their nose.
HGN, Walk-and-Turn, & One-Leg Tests
The standardized methods of field sobriety testing are the most widely used and most commonly understood of all field sobriety tests. These are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk-and-Turn Test, and the One-Leg Stand Test. A breakdown of each of these tests is described below
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
Horizontal gaze nystagmus refers to the rapid eye movement, or eye jerking, as it moves from side to side. Eye jerking (nystagmus) of this nature is believed to be the result of drug or alcohol impairment, thus disabling the brain from properly controlling the muscles of the eye. The HGN test is most often performed by asking the driver to follow an officer’s pen / flashlight / finger – placed about 12-15 inches in front of the driver’s nose, and just above eye level. The object being followed is moved horizontally by the officer, and the driver is instructed to follow it with his or her eyes, while refraining from moving their head.
While the driver tracks the object with their eyes, the officer will be looking for three specific indications of impairment: lack of smooth pursuit, distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, and the angle of onset of nystagmus prior to hitting a 45-degree angle. Unimpaired drivers should be able to use both eyes to track the object from side to side smoothly and without interruption. Unimpaired drivers should also be able to maintain outward placement of the eye for at least 4 seconds without jerking. The same is true of eyes that are placed at a 45-degree angle between the nose and shoulder. If this place can be held without jerking of the eye, no impairment is believed to exist.
One-Leg Stand Test
The One-Leg Stand test checks a driver’s abilities to perform tasks of divided attention. In order to successfully complete this test, a driver must be able to attend to both mental and physical tasks. Specifically, drivers are asked to follow the oral instructions provided by a law enforcement officer while simultaneously balancing on one foot for 30 seconds. The foot is expected to remain approximately six inches off the ground with toe pointed, all while maintaining perfect balance and counting by thousands for 30 seconds. At this time, the driver’s arms are to remain at his or her side.
During this activity, law enforcement officers will be looking for apparent signs of impairment. Typical indications of intoxication include drivers who must put their foot down before the test has been completed; drivers who hop around in order to maintain balance; drivers who sway while trying to maintain balance; and drivers who extend their arms out from their sides in order to maintain balance.
The Walk-and-Turn test is another divided attention test, meaning that drivers will be expected to both listen and follow the instructions given to them, while physically performing said instructions to a respectable degree. In this test, drivers are asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, and then turn around on one foot and do the same in the opposite direction.
During this process, the law enforcement officer will be paying attention to no less than seven factors: walking before the officer’s instructions have ended; stopping in the middle of a performance to regain balance; extending arms to maintain balance; losing balance while turning; taking an incorrect number of steps; the ability to actually touch feet in a heel-to-toe fashion; and the ability to maintain balance while standing still and listening to instructions.
Challenge the Results of Your Case with a Field Sobriety Tests Defense Lawyer in San Jose, CA
The field sobriety tests that were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been heavily criticized since their inception. Specifically, arguments have been made against the ability of such tests to accurately portray a person’s level of intoxication. It has been brought to the attention of officials that the same “indicators” of intoxication can also represent a number of other compelling reasons for a person’s inability to successfully perform these tests.
Not only are these tests based on the subjective interpretation of the law enforcement officer who is conducting them, but they require drivers to complete tasks that could be difficult for a sober person to perform as well. Hundreds of people experience problems with balance, eyesight, coordination, and mental capacity. Therefore, using these factors to determine the sobriety or intoxication of a suspected driver is an inaccurate method for testing a person’s BAC. Despite this fact, field sobriety tests are still widely used in California.
If you were arrested in San Jose as a result of the way you fared on one or more of the aforementioned standardized or non-standardized tests, then you should waste no time in contacting a San Jose criminal defense attorney the law offices of Edward N. Ajlouny. With affordable rates and aggressive tactics, I can help you challenge the results of your field sobriety test and fight the criminal DUI allegations that you are now facing. For the results-oriented representation that you need at this time, don’t wait to contact the office today. A San Jose field sobriety tests lawyer here to fight on your behalf.