DC DUI Field Sobriety Tests

In Washington, DC, a police officer may stop your vehicle based on one of two occurrences. The first is a traffic violation like speeding. The second involves the motion of the vehicle while you are driving. Motion includes things like weaving or riding the center line of the roadway.

When a police officer suspects you’ve been operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, he must find evidence to prove his suspicion. The evidence is what the prosecutor needs to prove its DUI case against you. You may think the first part of the evidence gathered is a breathalyzer test, which measures blood alcohol concentration level (BAC), but it’s not. The first evidence is gathered during a field sobriety tests (FSTs). DC DUI field sobriety tests are designed to find signs of intoxication. Unfortunately, these tests may be hard for even a sober driver to perform because they are so complex.

Three Common DUI Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has designed three separate tests for test field sobriety:


The purpose of this field test is to divide your attention. You are required to take nine steps, placing the heel of one foot in front of the toe of your other foot. The steps must be taken in a straight line. You then must turn and complete the task in the opposite direction. During this test, a police officer is looking for signs in your behavior like:

  • The inability to keep your balance while you listen to instructions
  • Making a wrong turn
  • Starting the test before the instructions end
  • Stopping while you are taking the nine steps to regain your balance
  • Stepping off the straight line
  • Trying to use your arms to maintain your balance
  • Taking the wrong number of steps
  • The inability to make a heel-to-toe step

One-Leg Stand

You are required to stand with one foot about six inches from the ground. For 30 seconds, you are instructed to count aloud by thousands. Instead of counting, “One, two, three ….” you count, “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three ….” This is another divided-attention test. During the test, a police officer is observing you for any of the following:

  • Using your arms to maintain your balance
  • Swaying while trying to keep your balance
  • Hopping to maintain your balance
  • Putting your foot on the ground while trying to count

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN, refers to the involuntary jerking of your eye that naturally happens when gazing from side to side. Although the movement happens naturally, it becomes exaggerated in a person who is drunk. An officer will point a small object, like a flashlight or pen, in front of your eyes. He or she will order you to follow the object using only your eyes, and not making any movement with your head. You should be able to complete the task without the exaggerated involuntary jerking. The officer looks for:

  • The inability to follow the object smoothly
  • Distinctive eye jerking
  • Eye jerking that occurs within a 45-degree of center

Challenging the DUI Field Sobriety Tests

It’s easy to believe that failing any of the DUI field sobriety tests is an automatic slam-dunk DUI conviction. That’s not the case. Your DC DUI lawyer has several ways to challenge these tests.

He or she can use a defense that:

  • Questions the accuracy of the tests results, based your particular circumstances
  • Questions the police officer’s way of conducting and investigating the field sobriety tests
  • Questions the reason for the initial stop
  • Questions the use of the field test evidence against you to prove your intoxication

Your DUI lawyer may also attack the accuracy of the DUI field sobriety tests methods because of the following:

  • Your age
  • Your weight
  • Your physical condition
  • Any illnesses you have
  • Any medication you are taking
  • Wearing contact lens.
  • The police officer’s skill and experience in conducting and understanding the DUI field sobriety tests
  • Less-than-ideal roadside testing conditions

You want to speak to a DUI lawyer about your DC DUI case regardless of consenting to DUI field sobriety tests. The tests aren’t always accurate, and he or she will be able to challenge them when fighting your DUI charge.