Field Sobriety Tests in Howard County DUI Cases

Local law enforcement officials around the area use three major field sobriety tests to help them determine whether or not someone has been driving while under the influence of alcohol. These tests are important and serve as the basis for a police officer’s decision to arrest someone. A Howard County DUI lawyer can explain these tests and their importance in more detail during a free initial consultation. Call today to schedule.

Field Sobriety Tests

Field Sobriety Tests are generally referred to as divided attention tests. They are indicators. There are three most common tests. After a substantial amount of testing and a vigorous amount of decision making by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the higher a person tests, and the higher their score for each of test, the more likely it is that the percentage of alcohol or drugs are present in the system to impair a person’s ability to drive or put them under the influence of something where they should not be driving.

The tests are very specific, and the training is very specific. The officers look for coordination and balance. These tests are stacked against a person. Many parts of these tests focus on the physical side. If a person has a disability or an injury, they are not going to do well in these tests even if they are 110 percent sober.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

Generally referred to as “Follow the Pen.” The test has the person hold their head straight while an officer uses a stimulus, more often than not a pen or a very small flashlight like on the end of a pen, and directs the person to follow the pen out to about 45 degrees, which is the maximum deviation. The officer looks to see if the person’s eyes flutter or wiggle, whether they turn their head, or start too soon. They are looking to see if the person can maintain their head perfectly straight and follow the pen with only their eyes.

Walk and Turn Test

A nine step counterclockwise turn nine step test. It is also a divided attention test to assess a person’s ability to count and cognitively think about what they are doing and then physically execute the steps, the turn, and then the steps back.

One-Leg Stand Test

This test is exactly what it sounds like. A person stands on one leg and the other one is raised six inches off the ground. It is the person’s choice which leg to stand on and they stand on that leg and count for 30 seconds. The observation period is for a 30 second period of time.

Rules of Administering These Tests in Howard County

The actual tests themselves must be done properly with a proper instruction (explanation of the test to the driver) and a proper demonstration (by the observing officer)–they must be done by the book. These are national standards, not state standards. Nationally, the standards have been decided and each state incorporates them in the training of their state and local officers. If a field sobriety test is not conducted according to these rigorous national standards, then there may be the opportunity for an experienced DUI attorney to question the validity of these tests in court and have them dismissed as evidence.

Unique Ways Howard County Law Enforcement Use Tests

Howard County law enforcement officials do not use or administer field sobriety tests in unique ways. They have to comply with the Standard Field Sobriety Tests rules and regulations, which are national standards.

The tests cannot be modified, changed, or done in a way that is not accurate with the actual test. All of the studies of these tests give them weight in court, at the stop, and suggest that there is a high probability that the person may be under the influence. Even if the tests suggest that person may be 90 percent certain to be under the influence, and that leaves 10 percent to be questioned.

Weight of These Tests at Trial

At trial, there is a great deal of weight given to these tests. They are considered the best way to test the divided attention, which a person needs to drive a vehicle. The courts look specifically at the Walk and Turn and the One Legged Stand, not so much at the horizontal gaze. There are some judges that disregard that test as not being conclusive. The judges look very carefully at two of these tests. The higher a person scores, the more likely it is that they are under the influence.

How an Attorney Can Challenge Tests in Howard County Court

The attorney challenges the accuracy of the tests and whether the officers are trained to testify that if a person fails all the tests they are 90 percent likely to be under the influence. The attorney questions the accuracy of these tests that have been validated by years of study. The studies don’t answer the question as to why the test results are not perfectly accurate and why 10 percent could be wrong.

When an attorney looks at these tests, at the physical cognitive aspects of the tests, they may question whether the tests were administered properly or improperly. The attorney can call into question the subjective overview of the tests from the officer to show that a person tested very well or very poorly. If there is a video that shows something that contradicts the officer’s report, perhaps the officer isn’t being totally truthful, or he or she referred to the wrong report that they wrote at a previous a DUI stop.

The accuracy of the Standard Field Sobriety Tests is an essential element for prosecutors because the tests must be done correctly and properly to be used as some form of scientific evidence to show impairment or an influence.