If a police officer suspects a motorist of DWI, that motorist will be asked to submit to a series of field sobriety tests. Field Sobriety Tests allow police officers to determine a motorist’s impairment, presumably before deciding to make a formal arrest. These tests are subjective in nature, which means that they are administered solely by the investigating police officer(s) and are evaluated solely based on the police officer’s opinions– not based on any set of hard and fast (or, we would argue, even reliable) set of rules. Below please find some short introductory descriptions of the tests that motorists may encounter at a motor vehicle stop.
Horizontal and Vertical Gaze Nystagmus
The police officer will position a pen, pen light, or his or her finger in front of the motorist’s face and move the object from side to side and up and down, watching the subject’s eyes. The officer is looking for involuntary jerking or trembling of the eyeball, which under some circumstance, may be a physiological sign of impairment.
Walk and Turn
The officer instructs the motorist to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a real or imaginary line, then turn in a certain specifically instructed manner, followed by taking nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting position. While performing this task, the motorist is expected to keep their arms at their sides without raising them. The officer will monitor the motorist’s performance of this test including the motorist’s ability to follow the officer’s instructions, the motorist’s balance, whether or not the line was followed, the number of steps taken, the manner of the steps taken (i.e. whether or not the motorist touched heel-to-toe on each step), arm position, and head position.
One Leg Stand
Generally, the officer instructs the motorist to raise one leg six inches off the ground while watching the motorist’s foot, keeping the bottom of his or her heel parallel to the ground and arms at his or her sides. Simultaneously, the officer will instruct the motorist to count out loud until they instruct otherwise. The officer will also monitor the motorist for their ability to follow instructions, general lack of balance (such as swaying, hopping, putting the foot down prior to being told to do so and raising the arms), and ability to accurately measure the passage of time.
Finger to Nose
The officer will instruct the driver to stand with his or her feet together, arms at his or her sides, to close his or her eyes and to tilt the head back. The motorist will be further instructed to bend his or her arm at the elbow and to touch each index finger to the tip of the nose three times per arm. Again, the officer will watch for ability to follow instructions, general lack of balance (such as swaying, unsteadiness, and opening the eyes), and ability to meet the tip of the index finger to the tip of the nose.
Romberg Balance Test
With head tilted back, feet together and eyes closed, the motorist will be instructed to estimate the passage of 30 seconds (however, this time period can vary depending on the police agency involved). With this test, the officer is evaluating the motorist’s perception of time, which, according to the officer, will be slow in the case of alcohol or depressants or fast in the case of stimulants. The officer will also check for ability to follow instructions and signs of general lack of balance (such as swaying, unsteadiness, opening the eyes, separating the feet, and raising the arms).
From reciting portions of the alphabet backwards or forwards, finger counting, and counting backwards, there are many field sobriety tests that police officers employ.
The team of attorneys at Anelli Xavier is studied in the training, evaluation, and proper performance of these tests. Our attorneys also study how the tests can be interpreted depending on the conditions of the test’s scene and the conditions of the particular motorist involved. If you have submitted to any of these tests or have concerns about how they may be used against you in court, contact me, the DWI Guy, today.