Ask a DUI Attorney: Do Field Sobriety Tests Hold Up in Court?

Ask a DUI Attorney: Do Field Sobriety Tests Hold Up in Court?

April 11, 2024

If you are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the police officer may ask you to take one or more field sobriety tests (FSTs). These tests assess your coordination, balance, and ability to follow instructions, all of which could be impaired by intoxication. But are the results of these field sobriety tests reliable enough to hold up as strong evidence in a court of law? Here are some thoughts from a DUI attorney in Oklahoma City.

Ask a DUI Attorney in Oklahoma City: Do Field Sobriety Tests Hold Up in Court?

FSTs are a battery of physical and mental tasks officers administer at the roadside. One common FST is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). In the HGN, the officer looks for involuntary eye jerking as you follow a moving object, since this can be an indicator of alcohol consumption. 
In the Walk-and-Turn (WAT) test, you walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, then turn and return, potentially revealing balance issues. The One-Leg Stand (OLS) is exactly what it sounds like: you stand on one leg for a set time, with an elevated foot, as the officer observes your ability to maintain balance.

Do FSTs Hold Up in Court?

The administration and scoring of FSTs involve a degree of subjectivity from the officer. What one officer interprets as a "fail" might not be seen the same way by another. This can lead to inconsistencies in how FST results are used as evidence.

Factors Affecting FST Performance

Factors unrelated to alcohol consumption can impact a person's performance on FSTs, such as age. Older individuals might naturally have decreased balance. Medical conditions are another reason FSTs may not hold up in court. Injuries, neurological disorders, or even inner ear problems can influence balance and coordination. 
Environment is also a common issue affecting the reliability of FSTs, since uneven ground, poor lighting, or weather conditions can affect their administration.

Limited Scientific Validation

While some FSTs are based on scientific principles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes that they are not foolproof. Even when performed under ideal conditions, FSTs have varying levels of accuracy in detecting intoxication.

The Right to Refuse

It's important to understand that, in most states, FSTs are voluntary. You have the right to refuse to perform them. Refusing FSTs might lead to other consequences, such as license suspension, but it could limit the potentially subjective evidence an officer has against you.

Contesting FST Results in Court

A skilled DUI attorney can challenge the admissibility or the weight given to FST results in several ways. The administration of the FST is often called into question. Did the officer follow standard procedures? Were the instructions clear? 
External factors, such as weather, health conditions, or other circumstances, may be brought up as potential issues affecting your performance. And of course, the lack of scientific reliability allows attorneys to highlight the limitations of FSTs and introduce expert testimony to challenge their accuracy. Visit this page to find out more.
Field sobriety tests can be a piece of the puzzle in a DUI case, but they are far from conclusive. Talk with a lawyer right away if you've been charged with a DUI. 

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