March 27, 2015 By Matthew Wallin


dui field sobriety test
DUI field sobriety test

The sight of flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror is enough to make any driver nervous. Between the time you realize the officer means to pull you over and the time you stop your car, countless variations of these questions go through your mind: “What did I do? Was I speeding? Did I cross into another lane? Are my tags current?” If you are sober, it might not occur to you that the officer has something else in mind until he or she asks you to get out of your car.

The truth is that not all drivers who are asked to perform a field sobriety test are driving under the influence. Sober drivers are often asked to do them as well, and it is very common for a sober driver to fail a field sobriety test. Here are some reasons why.

  1. Back/Leg Injuries

Two of the standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) are the one-leg-stand test and the walk-and-turn test. If you have a leg injury that causes you to limp or makes you prone to falling, you could easily be mistaken for having had too many drinks.

  1. Nervousness

Any traffic stop can be a nerve-wracking experience. The fear of failing a sobriety test can be enough to cause you to lose concentration. Because part of the test is to see how well you handle instructions while performing physical tasks, you may miss the instructions if your focus is on how nervous you are.

  1. Exhaustion/Fatigue

Exhaustion and intoxication share many common symptoms: delayed response to verbal commands, slower mental processes, and lack of concentration. If you were pulled over after a long day at work, it is possible that you will be simply too tired to perform well on a test.

  1. Age

For many of us, age grants us not only wisdom and experience, but also causes unwanted vision, hearing, and balance problems. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test, where you are asked to follow an object with your eyes, is especially difficult for someone who has vision problems that are common in older drivers. That is why officers are generally instructed not to use field sobriety tests if the driver is 65 or older.

  1. Obesity

Officers are also generally instructed that a driver’s weight can have a significant impact on the accuracy of the tests. Police training manuals indicate that a person who is 50 or more pounds overweight may have difficulty performing the walk-and-turn or one-leg-stand test, and therefore should not be subjected to the test.

  1. Balance Problems

Some people have difficulty with balance generally, such as people who have experienced vertigo. Others suffer from conditions such as orthostatic hypotension, which causes momentary drop in blood flow to the brain when they sit or stand, particularly after a large meal.

  1. Improperly Administered Test

In many cases, a sober person fails the tests because the officer gave them improper or incorrect instructions. The officer might also use improper criteria to grade you. If the officer makes these mistakes, then a sober person could easily fail.

  1. Condition of the Test Site

Rarely are the conditions on the side of the road favorable to getting an accurate test. The weather could be problematic because of rain or extreme winds like the Santa Ana winds. The pavement could be uneven or sloped, there could be rocks or other objects that affect where you walk, and if you are pulled over at night, you could be in an area that has poor lighting, which affects not only how you walk, but how well the officer sees you perform the tests.

You Have the Right to Refuse

Always keep in mind that you have the right to refuse to perform a field sobriety test, and you should exercise your right to do so. Remember, these tests are highly subjective, and the person who wants to arrest you is scoring your performance. The officer is not there to help you. Police officers are paid to take “threats to public safety” off the street. If they believe they can show the District Attorney that you were driving under the influence and were a threat to public safety, they will gather whatever evidence they think is sufficient enough to arrest and convict you.

Politely tell the officer that, on the advice of your attorney, you elect not to participate in the tests. Even if the officer still decides to arrest you, you will not have given him or her this extra evidence that will be used against you in court.

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today If You Have Been Arrested for DUI

If you or someone you know has been arrested for DUI following a field sobriety test, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich today. A DUI conviction is not always an easy case for the prosecutor to make, and there may be reasons why the field sobriety tests are unreliable in your case. Using an effective defense strategy specifically tailored to the facts of your case, we may be able to get the charges against you reduced or dismissed altogether. Contact us today so we can help you get the best possible outcome in your case.

Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending those facing DUI charges. With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, we can help you no matter where you work or live.

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

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