I Failed My Field Sobriety Test…Is My DUI Case Hopeless?

Jun 19, 2023 | DUI

If you’ve recently been arrested for DUI, chances are that the officer who pulled you over asked you to complete a series of actions to determine if you were intoxicated or not. These are called field sobriety tests (FSTs) and usually involve assessing your balance, coordination, and ability to multitask. Many people are under the impression that if they fail their field sobriety test, they will automatically be found guilty in their DUI case. However, there are many well-known issues with FSTs, and an experienced DUI lawyer may be able to fight against your field sobriety test being used against you in court. So, don’t give up and plead guilty yet! Keep reading for more info on FSTs and learn how our DUI attorney will fight to get charges reduced or dismissed. 

What Is A Field Sobriety Test?

As already stated, field sobriety tests are the tasks an officer gives to a driver to determine their level of sobriety or intoxication. There are several types of “tests” an officer could give, and many times they will be administered in a group of 3. The most commonly used types of FSTs are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: the officer holds up a finger and asks you to watch it closely as they move it back and forth. They are observing the movement of your eyes to see if it is jerky or inconsistent. This is usually considered a sign of intoxication.
  • Walk-and-Turn Test: the officer asks you to walk heel-to-toe for a certain number of steps and then turn around. They will watch to see if you lose your balance, fail to touch heel-to-toe, walk the correct amount of steps, and other indicators of impairment.
  • One Leg Stand Test: the officer will ask you to lift one leg off of the ground and count to a specified number. They will watch to see if you were swaying, put your foot down, or hop to maintain balance – all of which are supposed indicators of intoxication.

Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Even though these tests are used to determine whether an officer will arrest someone for intoxicated driving, there have always been issues with the validity of these tests, leading many to question why they are still used and if they should continue to be admissible evidence in court. Most of the problems with FSTs can be summed up in the following three ways:

  1. Medical conditions or other physical ailments could cause you to fail. Two out of the three tests mentioned above require an individual to perform a physical task that they may not even be able to complete sober. Many people are simply uncoordinated, and may not easily stay balanced. They could also have a legitimate physical or medical reason why they would not be able to perform the tasks to the officer’s standards, which leads to problem #2.
  2. The results are dependent upon each officer’s ability to administer the tests proficiently. In other words, these tests are highly subjective. An officer who has only been on the job for two weeks may not be as practiced in administering the tests or identifying the signs of intoxication as proficiently as an officer who has been on the job for 20 years. While it is the hope that police officers are acting objectively and professionally, they are still humans, and all humans are prone to mistakes every now and then. However, we shouldn’t be risking an individual’s reputation and more on the “hope” that their test was administered objectively and correctly.
  3. The tests are always performed in an uncontrolled environment. Think about it: you have no control over where the test is performed and what kind of interference there could be from any number of sources. If you are on a busy street at night, your eyes may focus and refocus every time a car’s headlights go by. You could also be in an open area on a bright and sunny day, which causes a glare to affect your eyes. Both of these scenarios could cause you to fail the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In short, the physical conditions cannot be controlled any time an FST is completed. It is scientifically incorrect to take the results of an FST at face value. 

How Are Field Sobriety Tests Used In A DUI Case?

Thankfully, courts do take into account the high margin of error that is usually associated with these tests. First, your DUI attorney would determine whether or not the officer had reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place. If they did not, then your having to complete the FST may fall under question. In addition, even if the officer did have reasonable suspicion and you performed poorly on the tests, your attorney may be able to argue against the results. 

They may be able to identify factors regarding the test that affected the administration or your performance. Furthermore, evidence that you have a physical or medical condition which caused you to have poor performance on one of the tests may weaken the case against you. Your attorney may also return to the location of the test at the same time it was performed to note if factors of the environment were at play. Finally, they could simply argue that you were nervous in the presence of law enforcement and were not in the right frame of mind to complete the tests successfully. Any of these defenses could prove effective with the right lawyer presenting them. 

Our Experienced DUI Lawyer Can Give You Hope

At Alatorre Law, we don’t believe any case is hopeless, especially when it comes to failed field sobriety tests. We will closely examine the conditions of your DUI arrest and ensure that there was a valid reason you were suspected of driving under the influence. Our lead attorney, Javier Alatorre, has fought numerous DUI cases and is well-practiced in the best strategies to get charges reduced or dismissed. Call today to schedule your free consultation and get honest and trustworthy legal advice regarding your DUI case. 

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