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What Is a Field Sobriety Test – and Should You Take One?

Posted by Tom Holland | Dec 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

Getting pulled over for suspected drunk driving can be frightening. Your first instinct may be to comply with whatever the officer asks you to do, including exiting the vehicle for perform field sobriety tests.

Standardized field sobriety tests are tools used by law enforcement to garner evidence of your intoxication. If you perform poorly on the tests, the officer will likely bring you down to the station for a breath test, which will confirm his or her suspicions. A DUI conviction can have serious repercussions for your employment status, educational opportunities, and personal relationships, not to mention your finances and freedom.

There are many different field sobriety tests, but the following three are the most commonly used.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

This test gauges involuntary eyeball movement, which becomes more easily recognizable in people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This test is performed by the officer holding an object approximately one foot from your nose then asking you to follow the side to side movement of the object with only your eyes.

The officer is looking for:

  • Eye jerking while following the object
  • Nystagmus (involuntary eye movements) before your eyes reach a 45 degree angle
  • Your eyes bouncing within 4 seconds of looking to the furthest side point

Walk and Turn

This test gauges balance and your ability to follow directions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved the walk and turn as a standard field sobriety test, which helps to bolster law enforcement's argument for using it. You are asked to stand heel to toe with your hands at your side as the officer explains and shows you what to do.

The test requires that you:

  • Walk nine heel-to-toe steps on a real or imaginary line, pivot and take another nine steps back.
  • Keep your arms at your sides start to finish.
  • Watch your feet while counting the steps out loud.

The officer is looking for:

  • Difficulty balancing during the instructional phase
  • Beginning to step forward before the instructions are complete
  • Stopping while walking
  • Failing to walk heel-to-toe
  • Deviating from the line
  • Balancing using your arms
  • Pivoting incorrectly
  • Taking too many or too few steps

One Leg Stand

Again, this test is used to determine probable cause to arrest you for DUI. It is also given in instructional and performance phases. To successfully accomplish this test, you will be required to lift one foot approximately 6 inches off the ground, hands resting at your sides, looking at your foot and counting as instructed until the officer tells you to stop. You could be in that position for 5 seconds or 25 seconds.

The officer is looking for:

  • Swaying
  • Using arms for balance
  • Hopping
  • Putting your foot down

You only need to be observed doing two of these to fail the test.

Can you say no to a field sobriety test in Fort Mill or Rock Hill?

In South Carolina, you are permitted to decline taking a field sobriety test. Officers may pose the fact that they intend to test you in a manner that makes you feel as if you have no choice, but you absolutely have the right to say no.

Do not allow the pressure of the situation jeopardize your position. Agreeing to take a field sobriety test can lead to complications with serious consequences.

Choosing an experienced DUI defense attorney like Tom Holland, should be your first priority when facing a DUI. Without the right attorney you could face time in jail, heavy fines, temporary or permanent loss of your driver's license, just for starters.

To schedule a consultation with the attorney you can count on to protect your rights after a DUI arrest in York, Lancaster, or Chester County, call 803-219-2630, or fill out the firm's contact page. Mr. Holland has offices located in Fort Mill on Gold Hill Road, or Rock Hill on Oakland Avenue for your convenience.

About the Author

Tom Holland

Experienced Divorce, DUI, and Criminal Defense Attorney While I've been primarily focused on the practice of divorce and family law for the past decade, my experience as a criminal prosecutor has continued to serve my clients well. I previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster Cou...


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