If you get pulled over for erratic driving, a police officer may decide to administer field sobriety tests to help him or her determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests are administered onsite and usually consist of three physical tests considered to be standard practice.
The field tests that are routinely given are the nine-step walk and turn, the one-leg stand, and the horizontal gaze and nystagmus.
The nine-step walk and turn is difficult to perform because it involves following eight instructions that are unfamiliar at best to most people. The officer is looking for the following clues:
- Inability to balance during instructions
- Starts too soon during instructions
- Stops while walking
- Does not touch heel-to-toe (1/2 inch or greater)
- Steps off line
- Uses arms to balance
- Improper turn
- Incorrect number of steps
The officer usually goes through the instructions very quickly and looks for mental lapses or instability.
The one leg stand is probably the most difficult test to perform. It requires the motorist to hold one foot six inches off the ground while counting to 30. This is a test of general physical fitness and abdominal strength and is not a fair test for some classes of people like those over 65 or overweight.
The horizontal gaze and nystagmus (HGN) test is referred to as the “pen” test. The officer will wave a pen in front of your face to follow your eye movement. Since officers are not qualified to explain why the eyes show nystagmus (repetitive, uncontrolled movements) and would need a doctor to explain it, this test and its results are almost never allowed as evidence in Massachusetts.
You are under no obligation to take the field sobriety tests and you can refuse them without adverse consequences. You can still be arrested by the officer on suspicion of OUI/DUI but your refusal cannot be entered into evidence at your trial.
A good attorney can challenge many aspects of these tests. Factors such as your physical condition (height, weight, age, medical status etc.) or environmental conditions (weather, lighting, location, etc.) can have a major impact on the results.
The location of the tests by the side of a road can be less than ideal. The tests may have been scored unfairly or administered incorrectly. And the reliability of the tests has been called into question by many research studies.
So, there are many ways an attorney can actually make the test methods work for you in a trial for OUI/DUI. The choice is yours.