Representing Individuals Charged with DUI
The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests “SFST” were created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “NHTSA” to assist police officers nationwide in determining whether probable cause exists to arrest an individual for DUI. The standardized field sobriety tests are regularly used today by Connecticut police officers and often comprise the primary evidence against those charged with DUI. The SFST consist of a three-test battery utilizing the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus “HGN,” the Walk and Turn “WAT,” and the One Leg Stand “OLS.” The tests are designed as “divided attention tests” which means that the suspects attention is simultaneously divided between performing a mental and a physical task. Police officers believe these tests help assess your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
After a Connecticut police officer pulls an individual over under suspicion of DUI, he or she will likely ask the suspect out of the vehicle to attempt these field sobriety tests. Your performance on these tests may very well determine whether not the officer arrests you for DUI.
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The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests “SFST”
While a Connecticut police officer may ask you to perform any number of tasks, if he or she suspects you have been drinking, the officer will virtually always ask you to perform the standardized field sobriety tests. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand are introduced as evidence in virtually every DUI case in Connecticut.
HORIZONTAL GAZE NYSTAGMUS
Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye. Nystagmus can be caused by alcohol. Studies show that nystagmus can present as early as a .04% blood alcohol concentration “BAC.”
During the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the police officer will assess your eyes for nystagmus while moving a stimulus, such as a pen, from side to side in a horizontal motion. The police officer is supposed to hold the stimulus 12-15 inches from your eyes. The officer should then instruct you to follow the stimulus with your eyes only and to not move your heard. The police officer will first check your eyes for equal pupil size, equal tracking, and resting nystagmus to rule out any medical conditions.
During the HGN, the police officer will be looking for six standardized clues. The clues are as follows:
- Lack of smooth pursuit in the left eye
- Nystagmus prior to a 45-degree angle in the left eye
- Nystagmus at maximum deviation in the left eye
- Lack of smooth pursuit in the right eye
- Nystagmus prior to a 45-degree angle in the right eye
- Nystagmus at maximum deviation in the right eye
According to NHTSA, four or more clues observed on this test constitutes performance not to standard.
During the HGN test, police officers look for an involuntary movement of the eye that can be caused by alcohol consumption or certain types of drugs. While this test may sometimes be accurate in determining whether or not an individual is under the influence, the studies surrounding HGN testing have not been done rigorously and many false-positives result due to a variety of other factors.
CONTESTING THE HGN.
While nystagmus can be caused by alcohol consumption, there are many other causes of nystagmus that closely mimic alcohol nystagmus. Some of those include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Motion Sickness
- Head Trauma
In addition, some people are born with nystagmus. These individuals, who have what is referred to as “natural nystagmus,” will always show nystagmus even when not drinking.
Because the HGN is a standardized test, if it is not administered and scored according to standard, then the officer’s findings will be invalid. The Connecticut DUI Attorneys at The Sills Law Firm, LLC have successfully challenged and invalidated HGN tests for the following, among other, reasons:
- Officer did not properly instruct the suspect
- Officer did not properly check for medical conditions
- Officer held the stimulus too close or too far from the suspects face
- Officer did not hold the stimulus at the suspect’s eye level
- Officer did not conduct the proper number of passes for each eye
- Officer moved his stimuli too fast or too slow
- Officer did not turn off the emergency lights
- Officer had the suspect conduct the test while looking at passing traffic
- Officer did not check for vertical nystagmus
While the HGN can sometimes be accurate, several studies surrounding HGN testing suggest a high rate of false-positives. Because there are so many causes of nystagmus that closely mimic alcohol nystagmus and because of the exam’s highly technical procedures, there is ample opportunity for the police officer to inaccurately assess HGN.
WALK AND TURN TEST
The walk and turn test is also a standardized test. The police officer will commence this test by asking you to stand heel-to-toe and listen to his or her instructions. The police officer will advise you not to begin the test until you are told to do so. The police officer will then demonstrate an abbreviated version of the test before instructing you to begin the test.
The police officer will instruct you to walk nine heel-to-to steps in a straight line, with your hands by your side. The officer will then ask you to make a 180 degree turn by taking a series of small steps, and then take nine heel-to-toe steps, with your hands by your side, along the same line.
During this test, the police officer is looking for the following eight standardized clues:
- Loses balance during the instructional phase
- Starts the test too soon (before being advised to start)
- Does not walk heel-to-toe on any of the 18 steps
- Takes an incorrect number of steps
- Stops to steady self
- Steps off the line
- Raise arms for balance
- Turns incorrectly
According to NHTSA, an individual who exhibits two or more clues on the walk and turn test has failed to perform the test to standard.
CONTESTING THE WALK AND TURN TEST
In order to be valid, NHTSA requires that the walk and turn test be administered on a reasonably dry, hard, level surface free of any debris. There must be sufficient room for the suspect to complete nine heel-to-toe steps on a designated straight line. The original research shows that individuals over the age of 65, and those with back, leg, or inner ear problems have difficulty with this test. In addition, this test can be negatively affected by certain types of footwear.
The DUI lawyers at The Sills Law Firm have successfully discredited the walk an turn test for the following, among other, reasons:
- Officer failed to provide the standardized instructions
- Officer failed to properly demonstrate the test
- Officer improperly scored the test
- Video evidence discredited officer’s police report or testimony
- Test was conducted on an incline
- No designated straight line was utilized
- Suspect attempted the test while wearing high heels
- Suspect was over the age of 65
- Suspect had pre-existing medical conditions to back or legs
- Test was conducted on a slippery surface such as ice, snow, or after a rainstorm
The one-leg stand test is also a standardized test. It tests your ability to balance on one foot for 30 seconds while simultaneously counting out loud. The police officer will instruct you to stand with your hands by your side and lift the foot of your choosing six inches off the ground. The officer will then instruct you to count out loud 1001, 1002, 1003, so on and so forth until you are told to stop. During this test the police officer is looking for the following standardized cues:
- Sways while balancing
- Raises arms more than 6 inches
- Puts foot down before being told to stop
According to NHTSA, an individual who displays two or more of the above clues has failed to perform this test to standard.
CHALLENGING THE ONE LEG STAND TEST
The one leg stand, like the walk and turn, requires a reasonably dry, hard, level, surface. The original research also shows that individuals over the age of 65 and those with back, leg, or inner ear issues have difficulty performing the walk and turn. This test can also be adversely affected by certain types of footwear. In addition, individuals who are more than 50 pounds overweight have difficulty performing the one leg stand.
The DUI Defense Lawyers at The Sills Law Firm have successfully challenged the results of the one leg stand for the following, among other, reasons:
- Test was performed on a non-level surface
- Test was performed on wet slippery surface
- Suspect was over the age of 65
- Suspect was more than 50 pounds overweight
- Suspect suffered from back, leg, or inner ear issues
- Suspect was wearing improper footwear
- Video evidence contradicted officer’s police report or testimony
Are Field Sobriety Tests Required?
Connecticut’s DUI law allows police officer to make DUI arrests without administering the standardized field sobriety tests. However, police will generally ask you to perform the SFST as part of every DUI investigation. Police officers cannot force you to take a field sobriety test. You have the right to refuse. If you refuse, however, you will likely be arrested anyway and the prosecutors and judge will presume you refused because you had been drinking. As a result, most individuals will attempt the SFST because they view the tests as a way to possibly avoid a DUI arrest.
As you can see however, the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are far from perfect in predicting blood alcohol concentration. Pre-existing conditions, environmental factors, and officer error create a large possibility for false-positives on these tests. Therefore, many sober individuals perform poorly on the SFST and end up falsely arrested for DUI.
According to NHTSA, the SFST are invalid unless they are administered in the standardized manner, the standardized clues are used to assess the individual’s performance and standardized criteria are used to interpret that performance. If any one of the standardized field sobriety test elements is changed, then the validity of the tests is compromised.
At The Sills Law Firm, LLC we know that police officers rarely get these tests right. Our experienced and innovative DUI Defense Lawyers will challenge every aspect of the field sobriety tests from every angle.
FOR HELP CHALLENGING YOUR SFST, CONTACT OUR REPUTABLE LAW FIRM WITHOUT DELAY