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Experienced DUI Attorneys Explain Field Sobriety Tests in California

Field Sobriety Tests

If you are pulled over for a traffic violation and the police officer reasonably suspects that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer may request that you submit to a field sobriety test (FST).

Field sobriety tests are designed for officers to test whether you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unlike blood or breath chemical tests, which are required after a DUI arrest under California’s implied consent law, field sobriety tests are voluntary. This means that you may lawfully refuse to submit to a field sobriety test in California.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

The most common field sobriety tests that the police will administer are the following:

  • (1) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus;
  • (2) Walk-and-Turn; and
  • (3) One-Leg Stand

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) is involuntary eye movement that may occur when you are under the influence of alcohol. In this test, police officers will check your eye movements as you are instructed to follow an object from one side to the other. Nystagmus is a natural process even when sober, but your eye movements can be even more rapid and exaggerated when under the influence. 1 However, there are many other factors that may cause nystagmus, such as the consumption of caffeine or Advil, or even fatigue.

DUI and field sobriety test
It is important to familiarize yourself with the different field sobriety tests that the police may administer.

Police are required to follow strict procedures when administering any field sobriety test. There can be no deviation from procedures or any improvisation by the officer. If administered improperly, HGN field sobriety tests can yield incorrect results. For example, if the officer holds the object to one side too long, the test is not reliable. That is why it is imperative that you hire an experienced attorney who can challenge the officer’s administration of this test.

Walk-and-Turn Test

This test involves the police officer instructing you to walk several steps heel-to-toe on an “imaginary line”, pivot and walk another series of steps back the other direction. 2 The objective here is to test whether you can divide your attention between listening to instructions while performing the test. 3

Officers will be judging your performance of this test based upon your ability to follow their instructions correctly and in a timely manner. Your performance will also be judged by whether you can keep your balance during instruction, where you keep your hands or where you place your feet during the test.

Many criticize this test because it is too subjective. For example, those who are naturally uncoordinated or have disabilities may have challenges performing this test. Simple nervousness, anxiety or fatigue may be causes of a failed walk-and-turn test. In addition, those who have hearing impairments may have difficulty following the officer’s instructions during this test.

One-Leg Stand Test

In this test, an officer will ask you to raise one leg several inches off the ground while you balance for a given period of time. 4 The officer may also request you to count out loud to gauge how you estimate time.

Four signs of impairment that officers are looking for in this test are:

  • Swaying while trying to balance;
  • Using your arms to help you balance;
  • Hopping; OR
  • Putting your foot down.

What to Do When You are Pulled Over By an Officer

The best policy is always to never drink and drive. That being said, if you find yourself in a situation where you are pulled over by a police officer and you may be under the influence of alcohol, keep the following in mind:

  • Pull over to a safe area on the side of the road as quickly and as safely as possible;
  • Have your license, registration, and insurance readily available to hand over to the officer as soon as he or she asks for it;
  • Place your hands in front of you on the steering wheel so that the officer can see them;
  • Be compliant and respectful to the officer;

    DUI attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
    If you are being accused of a DUI, call our offices today so we can begin to fight on your behalf.
  • Do not answer any questions that may incriminate you. Although you should comply with the officer as much as possible, you should not answer any questions that may give the officer a cause for your arrest or that may negatively impact your case. As the officer will advise you upon arrest, anything you say can and will be used against you in court;
  • If you feel that you have to answer an officer’s question, keep your answers brief and to the point. The officer will be looking for signs of slurred speech or the smell of alcohol on your breath. Thus, you should keep your answers short and simple to avoid incriminating yourself.
  • Do not admit to anything. You should never admit to drinking any amount of alcohol while driving. In addition, you should not admit to any traffic violation. Doing so will only validate that the officer had reason to pull you over and will give the officer probable cause for your arrest;
  • Do not consent to taking field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are voluntary in California and will only help in giving the officer more facts to present to the prosecution.

Call the DUI Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich

If you or a loved one has been arrested for DUI, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Wallin & Klarich, our experienced attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing DUI charges for over 30 years, helping thousands of clients in their time of legal need. Our team of attorneys has the knowledge and skill necessary to get you the best possible outcome in your case.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich DUI defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.


1. [http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/sfst/appendix_a.htm]
2. [Id.]
3. [Id.]
4. [Id.]

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