How Sober Drivers Can Fail Field Sobriety Tests

Police officers utilize roadside field sobriety tests, such as the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn, to determine whether a driver is “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs. These examinations are frequently utilized as proof against a driver who has been charged with DUI.


Field sobriety tests do have drawbacks, though. Any person, whether they are using drugs or alcohol or not, can fail for many reasons.


Our experienced DUI defense attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law explain.  



Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)  


If you are pulled over for a DUI traffic stop, you can be requested to do a battery of three tests known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).


Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are designed to determine 

 whether your driving abilities are impaired.  


These tests check: 


  • Balance 
  • Coordination 
  • The ability to follow instructions  
  • And other factors  


A police officer will score the tests and use the results to gauge whether or not you are intoxicated.  


Field Sobriety Test Procedures 


The SFST procedure commonly includes a few ‘tests’ outlined below. To be clear, these tests are often a judgment call based on how drunk you may appear, and not what your BAC level truly is at the time of the stop. If stopped, law enforcement may ask you to complete one or more of these activities:  


The Walk-and-Turn: The officer will ask you to walk in a straight line, heel to toe for nine steps, then turn on one foot, and walk back in the same way.  


Signs an officer might look for to see if you are impaired include: 


  • Taking too many steps 
  • Losing your balance 
  • Not touching heel-to-toe 
  • Putting your arms out to balance yourself 


The One-Leg Stand: You will be asked to stand on one foot while holding your other foot about six inches off the ground. You will also be asked to count aloud starting with one thousand until you are told to stop.  


This test lasts about 30 seconds. If you lose your balance, sway, put your arms out to balance, or put your foot down, the officer will consider these signs of impairment.  


The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus:The officer will instruct you to use your eyes to follow a pen or flashlight that is moving slowly. The object will be moved horizontally by the officer, and you must follow it by moving only your eyes and not your head. Your eyes will be examined by the officer for any side-to-side jerking motions, which are seen as indicators of intoxication.


Learn More > Probable Cause for a DUI in Florida  


Non-Alcohol Factors That Affect Field Sobriety Test Results  


It is simple to understand how a driver could fail regardless of their level of intoxication when you consider what law enforcement requires of them during these tests.


SFSTs measure things that any person, sober or not,  

would likely have difficulty doing. 


Can you stand on one leg for 30 seconds becoming off balance or even lightly swaying?  

Can you balance yourself while walking heel to toe in uncomfortable shoes at night?


Factors that could affect the results of a field sobriety test that are not drugs or alcohol:  


  • A medical condition/medication that affects your coordination and balance 
  • Fear, anxiety, or nervousness 
  • Fatigue  
  • Distractions, loud noises, and bright lights
  • Unclear guidelines on how to perform the tests 
  • Language barriers  


The officer who conducts the test must also make sure that it is conducted in the appropriate setting, that they are properly trained, and that the test is fairly assessed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 


Problems with Field Sobriety Tests  


SFSTs have several issues. Even for a sober individual, the science supporting them is weak, and they are made to be challenging. These tests are still frequently used as evidence, even though police are instructed that sober persons may have trouble with them.


Moreover, officers are taught “cheats” that, should they need to use them in court, enable them to easily pass the examinations. But someone accused of DUI is not afforded this opportunity.


An experienced attorney who understands the complexities of these tests, the science behind them, and how to discredit the results is a necessary asset to you if you are charged with a DUI.  


How to Challenge Field Sobriety Tests  


Even if you failed these tests after being stopped at a DUI traffic stop or were pulled over due to suspicion of DUI, there are ways to challenge these results. 


You may be able to win your case by demonstrating that you had a medical condition that impaired your performance, that you were wearing high heels, or that the officer did not adequately explain the tests’ procedures to you.


Some field sobriety tests can be discredited based on video evidence from the officer’s dashboard or body camera if it shows poor testing conditions or that you performed the test correctly.  


Learn More > Contesting a Florida DUI 


Discrediting Field Sobriety Test Results  


By investigating and evaluating the circumstances surrounding your DUI arrest and testing, our attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law can develop a strong defense against your charges.  


We have extensive experience with DUI defense in the Tampa Bay area and are ready to challenge field sobriety test results to mitigate the charges you face.  


For aggressive legal counsel for your DUI charges, call our experienced lawyers at Stechschulte Nell for a free DUI case review today; 813-280-1244.  

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