Field Sobriety Testing

DUI Lawyers Assisting Defendants in Sacramento

It is common for law enforcement officers to use field sobriety testing after stopping a motorist for suspected drunk driving. However, many people do not realize that these tests may be very unreliable, and unlike your implied consent to a breath or blood test by driving in California, you have not given implied consent to take a field sobriety test. Travis G. Black is a dedicated Sacramento DUI attorney who helps many drivers defend against charges of drunk driving.

Field Sobriety Testing

Evidence that a defendant was driving under the influence includes conduct while driving, physical appearance, field sobriety tests, admissions, and blood alcohol tests. Generally, conduct that involves weaving, drifting, or straddling two lanes may raise a suspicion of drunk driving. Drivers who have bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or alcohol on their breath also raise a suspicion of drunk driving. Similarly, admissions such as "I'm sorry, I was drinking pretty heavily at the bar," are taken as evidence of drunk driving.

In order to confirm initial suspicions, officers may ask a suspected drunk driver to take a field sobriety test or FST. These are exercises that are supposed to test whether a driver can maintain attention, balance, coordination, and knowledge. They include recitation of the alphabet, walking a line, the one-leg-stand, the walk-and-turn, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the hand-pat, the finger-to-nose test, and the Rhomberg test. These tests may pose a challenge for a sober person to pass, and their accuracy is not assured.

Field sobriety tests are different from breath or blood tests because you may refuse to take them. You receive points for doing various tasks incorrectly or in a way that the officer is permitted to interpret as impairment. The more points that you accumulate, the more likely it is, according to the logic of the tests, that you are impaired. Once you achieve a certain number, the officer writes that signs of impairment were present. Even officers who use the field sobriety tests in an appropriate way arrest a certain percentage of innocent drivers.

Only three of the field sobriety tests are considered effective at identifying a drunk driver, while most of the tests are unreliable. The horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests are the tests that are considered reliable, with the horizontal nystagmus test having the most credibility, but police officers continue to use the other tests based on preference. In the horizontal nystagmus test, the officer looks at the involuntary jerking of eye movements when looking to the side. If you are drunk, your control of these eye movements is significantly reduced. Often, however, officers overestimate a driver's blood alcohol content simply because they submitted to the field sobriety test.

An officer must have a reasonable suspicion to pull you over and must have probable cause to arrest you. The purpose of conducting a field sobriety test is to obtain further evidence to support an arrest. While an officer may still arrest you if you refuse to take a field sobriety test, they will also have less evidence to use to support the arrest. An experienced drunk driving attorney can look at all of the facts of your case and determine where the weak points in your case are. Often, the weak spots in a case are in the types of evidence that the officer gathered to show that there was probable cause for a DUI arrest.

Consult a Drunk Driving Attorney in the Sacramento Area

Drunk driving may result in significant penalties, particularly if there are prior offenses. You should not assume that your failure to pass a field sobriety test means that you need to plead guilty or give up on finding a strong defense against your charges. Our principal, Travis G. Black, is a former police officer who now uses his understanding of law enforcement to defend people accused of drunk driving. If you have concerns about field sobriety testing or other events leading up to your arrest, call us. Sacramento attorney Travis G. Black provides knowledgeable legal counsel to people charged with drunk driving and works hard to get their charges dropped. To obtain a free consultation with a drunk driving lawyer at our Folsom office, contact us online or call Travis G. Black & Associates at 916-962-2896.