Can you “Pass” the Standardized Field Sobriety Test?

Most drivers are aware of the fact that if a law enforcement officer suspects that you are intoxicated during a traffic stop, he or she may ask you to do a series of physical tests in order to determine whether or not you are sober. These tests, collectively known as the “Standardized Field Sobriety Test” (SFST), were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Southern California Research Institute in order to give law enforcement “validated indicators of impairment” and to “establish probable cause for arrest.”2077287230_46ebc1f882

The SFST: three separate tests

The SFST is made up of three distinct tests, each designed to allow the test administrator to look for certain signs of impairment. These tests include:

  • The one-leg-stand – In this test, the officer instructs the subject to stand on one leg with the other foot raised about 6 inches from the ground while counting aloud. The officer looks for swaying, using arms to balance, hopping, and putting the foot down as signs of impairment.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus – Nystagmus is an involuntary eye motion that occurs when the eyes are directed at an angle. When intoxicated, nystagmus occurs at lesser angles. In this test, the officer asks the subject to track an object as he or she moves it across the subject’s field of vision. During the test, the officer looks to see whether the eyes follow the object smoothly, if jerking is distinct at maximum deviation, and if the onset of jerking happens within 45 degrees of center, all of which are said to be signs of intoxication.
  • The walk and turn – In the walk and turn test, the subject is asked to take 9 paces, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, and then turn around and return in the same manner.  The officer administering the test looks for the following signs of impairment: problems with balance during the instructions, starting before the instructions have been completed, stopping to regain balance, not touching heel-to-toe, stepping off the line, using arms to maintain balance, making an improper turn, or taking an incorrect number of steps.

The SFST is an evidence gathering tool

Many people are under the mistaken impression that if they perform well enough of the tests that the officer that stopped them will determine that they are sober and let them go. While this may occur every now and then, the SFST is generally administered in an effort to gather evidence supporting an officer’s assertion that an individual is impaired. As a result, if you are asked to perform these test, there is no way to “pass” – the officer who pulled you over has likely already formed a belief as to your sobriety, and is simply administering the test in most cases to obtain more evidence in support of this position. Of course, the more evidence he or she can gather, the stronger the case against you.

Contact a Denver DUI attorney today to schedule a free consultation

Anyone who is facing allegations of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in the Denver area should contact the Tiftickjian Law Firm as soon as possible. Our attorneys are committed to protecting the legal rights of people accused of crimes and provide aggressive criminal defense representation. To schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 303-DUI-5280 or send us an email through our online contact form available here.

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