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Annapolis Field Sobriety Tests

Standard field sobriety tests in Annapolis are a set of tests that have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, better known as NHTSA. These are a series of tests that the NHSTA has done formal research on in a way to suggest that there could be a correlation between the roadside test results and alcohol being present in an individual’s system.

These tests lead the arresting officer to believe that the worse a driver does on a field sobriety test, the higher the probability that there may be alcohol present. The field sobriety tests will generally take place in the third phase of the DUI stop after the officer believes they observe distracted driving and pulls the driver over.

Individuals absolutely have the right to refuse these tests, and should, in order to protect themselves in court if they happen to be charged. If you have been stopped for a DUI and took a field sobriety test, contact an Annapolis DUI attorney for help building a DUI defense.

Test Administration

The three most common field sobriety tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one-legged stand test.

Each of those tests is scored on a point and grading system that the officers have been taught in drunk driving seminars by other law enforcement officers to determine if a person is under the influence.

Horizontal Nystagmus Test

The HGN test is more commonly known or referred to as follow the pen and it is a test that has been accepted because of the studies were done by the NHTSA, however, many question the reliability of these tests  conducted by police officers including certain judges and even states. In Maryland, the court would allow an officer to testify as an expert.

The stimulant, such as a pen or a finger,  is held out roughly 12 inches in front of the individual’s face just at the top of their eyes. The stimulant goes out to the right for two seconds, held for four, and then is brought back. The test is then repeated to the left. The officers are looking for a sustained nystagmus test, a wiggling so to speak, left and right of the driver’s eye at the 45-degree maximum deviation.

A person is are scored three points on each side for sustained nystagmus. Most officers do not administer this test correctly, due to distracting roadside conditions and improper training.

Walk and Turn Test

For the walk and turn test, the test itself must be done on a flat or about as flat as possible grounding area where you can fairly walk or imagine walking on a straight line and be able to take nine steps, take a counterclockwise turn, which is more of a left pivot where the left foot stays down with three small steps by the right foot to complete the turn, and finally, walks nine steps back.

The driver is graded during the instructional phase where they are required to have one foot in front of the other as the officer talks to them. Next, they are graded on the walk itself, the turn, the return walk, and stopping when they are supposed to. The individual is asked to touch heel to toe, but the reality is that a person is generally allowed to miss by about an inch. It is not natural to walk heel to toe and it can throw a person off, causing them to look drunk even though they are sober.

One Leg Test

The stand on one leg test is scored out of four points. For this test, the driver must hold their foot at least six inches off the ground, with their hands on their side, or coming no more than six inches from their side, while counting for 30 seconds. The count starts at 1000, meaning the person will count 1001, 1002, 1003, etc.  Generally, the driver will count to 1023 or 1024 before the test is over.

If the driver puts their foot down, it does not necessarily mean that they have done poorly or had points scored against them. For example, if an individual thought they could stand and pick up their right foot in balance but seven or eight seconds into it, their legs are in pain and stop to change feet. The can apologize and say that it was too painful and to start over from the beginning on the other side. If the driver continues to be after changing their footing, they will not have any more points scored against them. Because the test is scored out of four points, the one point from a change of feet is not a good suggestion that the individual tested poorly.