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DUI Field Sobriety Tests

If you were arrested or cited for DUI/DWI, chances are the officer asked you to do a series of tests.  These are referred to as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (or SFSTs).  Maryland DUI Lawyer Andrew Hoverman has undergone and been certified in the same SFST training that the police officers have received.  Below you will find some common questions and answers regarding the SFSTs.

Why Do Many People Fail The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?

All of these tests are basically designed for people to fail, because the results are based on the officer’s interpretation and opinion. These are tests that no one would have practiced before; no one would have been given the rules of these tests and no one would know what a pass or a fail was on these tests, and yet the person would be given these tests for the first time ever, usually late at night, when it was cold, on a highway or a road with police lights going and headlights or flashlights in their face and cars whizzing by.

These tests are generally not carried out in a neutral, warm place on a flat, well-lit surface when the person was wide awake.  The officers trained to give field sobriety testing usually have done the test at least once in their life.  They likely did the test during the day, inside, on a flat surface, without bright, flashing lights, and the threat of arrest and a record if they didn’t perform the tests to the “satisfaction” of the person giving them the test.

The three most common tests officers perform, also known as a “battery of tests,” are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn (WAT), and the One Leg Stand (OLS). 


How Would It Help If The Person Did Not Perform The Field Sobriety Tests?

I advise people they are not required to do these tests and they need to tell the officers they are respectfully declining to do these things on the advice of their attorney, especially if they suspected or knew they were at or over the limit because it generally would not take much to be over the limit.

I also tell people that it is very likely that when an officer asks you to perform these field sobriety tests, the officer has already made up their mind and going to arrest you.  One of the biggest misconceptions – and one that could drastically hurt your defense – is that if you perform well on the field sobriety tests that will show the officer you are not impaired.  Instead of viewing field sobriety tests as an opportunity to disprove the officer’s suspicion of DUI, you should be viewing the field sobriety testing for what they really are:  an opportunity for the officer to build on his/her case against you for DUI.

If all the officer had against the person was that they maybe went over the line one time, then in that case everyone who drives would go over the line every once in a while. Maybe a driver was pulled over for an equipment violation, like a headlight out, and then the officer smelled alcohol on the person’s breath because they had a drink. If the police decided they wanted to arrest the person, and all the police had was a light out and odor of alcohol, then the prosecutor may or may not file charges when they were looking through the report if the police did not have the evidence they needed.  Even if charges are filed (more likely), a skilled DUI defense lawyer would be in a much better negotiating position with a State’s Attorney for a reduced charge or perhaps even a dismissal.

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