There are not many things more terrifying to drivers than being pulled over by police on a traffic stop after they have consumed some alcohol – even in cases where it was only one drink. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) under California Vehicle Code 23152 is a serious issue that has the potential to have life-altering consequences,
It's crucial to know that before any field sobriety test are administered – police must have probable cause to pull you over in the first place on suspicion of drunk driving. Anyone who is suspected of driving under the influence will normally be asked to perform a variety of field sobriety tests (FST).
We are often asked if it's possible to pass these DUI field sobriety test. The correct answer is that it depends on many different factors. Amount of alcohol consumption, drug use, and age are important factors performing field sobriety tests.
In many cases, we have seen younger people perform better on FST's because they are in good physical shape. The standard FST's tests given by police have specific clues that could indicate driver impairment.
If the clues are not observed by police while a driver is performing field sobriety tests, it would seem obvious the driver has passed the FST's. However, this is not always the case as a lot of police officers only note observations that indicated the driver was under the influence.
Some drivers have physical limitations – such as an injury – that will impact their ability to pass some field sobriety tests. The standardized DUI field sobriety tests are designed to be performed in a specific manner and under certain conditions – such as on a flat well-lit surface – in good weather.
It would seem obvious theses ideal conditions for FST's don't always exist. Most field sobriety tests are performed late at night on a side of a road or freeway with the distraction of lights from passing vehicles.
Imperfect Nature of DUI Field Sobriety Testing
Field sobriety test often includes various physical and mental exercises. Police will normally ask a driver to perform these exercises in order to make a determination whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or even a prescription medication.
Your performance on FST's directly impacts the decision by police to arrest you for DUI. Police will normally make a conclusion that a poor performance on field sobriety tests indicates impairment from using alcohol or drugs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has attempted to moved towards standardization of field sobriety tests – but the state of California is not legally required to follow them. Field sobriety tests are often inaccurate and feature many errors – but police and prosecutors will still use the results of field sobriety test as evidence at trial.
You Don't Have to Submit to Field Sobriety Tests
It's a common myth for drivers who were pulled over on traffic stop on suspicion of driving under the influence that they are legally required to submit to field sobriety tests. Many FST's are unreliable and the best way to pass is to avoid taking them. California law allows drivers to refuse police request to submit to FST's. Unfortunately, most drivers don't know this and will willingly consent to take them.
However, it should be noted that this legal right to refuse FST's could have harsh legal consequences as the DMV and a jury could rely on the results of the tests to determine guilt or an administrative finding to suspend your driver's license.
Field Sobriety Tests Can Be Difficult
Most Los Angeles County police officers will use a variety of different exercises when administering a field sobriety test, including:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
Known as “HGN,” it's an eye examination and frequently the first test used by a police. In fact, highly experienced officers rely heavily on the result of this test. It involves the tip of their pin and a request to follow it as they move it from side to side and up and down. For someone who is intoxicated, their eyes will normally display a jerking motion as they follow the pen – which is called “nystagmus” – an involuntary movement of the eyes.
Walk and Turn Test
This infamous filed sobriety test is designed to determine coordination and ability to follow instructions. Almost everyone knows that a police officer will ask you to follow a straight line for several steps, heel to toe, pivot and return. Many can't perform this test well under normal circumstances.
One-leg Stand Test
Even harder than the walk and turn tests, this one is normally hard for someone completely sober people. The officer will normally ask the driver to stand straight, hands by your side, and then lift one leg six inches off the ground – counting “one-thousand one” until told to stop. Police are observing if you sway, hop, lose your balance, and ability to follow their instructions.
Another infamous field sobriety test. This one is based on a theory that someone who is intoxicated will find it difficult to touch their finger to their nose several times with their eyes closed and head titled back. It's also designed to evaluate your ability to follow instructions.
This FST seems easy as who could not recite the alphabet? However, anyone who is intoxicated person will normally find it very hard to stay focused long enough say the entire alphabet from A-Z – without missing some letters or forgetting their place in the alphabet. Many police will make it even harder by asking you to start and stop with certain letters, such as start with “D” and stop at “S.”
While most of these FST's are used, only the first 3 listed are considered “standardized” by the NHTSA. Field sobriety tests can be difficult even someone who is not under the influence of anything. Additionally, FST's are subject to the officer's interpretation and other outside influences.
Can You Pass DUI Field Sobriety Tests?
In theory, FST's are administered to help police officers determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol. In reality, it's most likely that a police officer already made a decision whether a driver is under the influence long before any field sobriety tests are even performed.
In other words, FST's are used more as a gathering evidence tool than to determine whether a driver is intoxicated. It's true that if you refuse to submit to field sobriety tests, you will probably be facing an immediate DUI arrest. However, more importantly, it could also make the prosecutor's case against you substantially weaker – improving chances for a favorable outcome.
If you are convicted of DUI in Los Angeles, in violation of California Vehicle Code 23152, the penalties will depend on a range of factors – such as DUI causing injury, prior DUI convictions, and blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
You can still be convicted of DUI for driving under the influence of drugs or prescription medication. Common penalties for a DUI conviction include loss of driving privileges, fines, community service, ignition interlock device, probation, and jail time.
Field sobriety tests are a primary method used by police officers to determine if a driver has been driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication.
Our experienced criminal defense lawyers understand how to effectively challenge FST's and other evidence used in convict you. Contact our legal team if you or a family member has been charged with driving under the influence and we will review all the details in order to determine the best strategy at a favorable outcome.