When individuals are asked to perform a series of tasks (known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), or a Breathalyzer, it is the first time they realize they are being examined for a DUI. These tests were created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (based on studies they financed) to decide if a driver’s Blood Alcohol Content was above a .08 reading. The three tasks are:
- the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN);
- the Walk and Turn;
- the One-Leg Stand.
Below are several examples given by DUI lawyer John Bateman of what’s involved in a Standardized Field Sobriety Test in Spartanburg.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus A.K.A. The “Pen Test”
Nystagmus is the medical term for involuntary jerking of the eyes. In this test, the officer holds a stimulus (such a pen, a light, or just the officer’s finger) 12 to 15 inches from the driver’s eyes and asks the driver to follow the object with his or her eyes. The officer then performs a routine to check for a number of “hints” that the driver is impaired. The problem with the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, however, is that in order for it to be accurate, it depends on the officer adhering to a strict protocol. All DUIs are different. Furthermore, there are a wide range of medical circumstances that can cause nystagmus which the officer has no ability to diagnose.
Some courts still do not admit the results of the HGN test into evidence for DUI arrests, despite the correlation between alcohol consumption and HGN. Evidence presented to courts has at times been inadequate to meet courts’ evidentiary standards for including scientific or technical evidence. As a result, police officers in a number of jurisdictions through the United States use the HGN test only to try and establish probable cause but without securing admission of the test results into evidence at trial.
Walk and Turn
The officer instructs the driver to stand heel-to-toe and take 9 heel-to-toe steps down a real or imaginary line, while counting each step aloud. The driver is then to turn by taking a series of small steps, and take 9 heel-to-toe steps back, in the same manner. The officer must adhere to a strict protocol to ensure even arguable accuracy, just like they do with the HGN test. Officers are people just like everyone else, and they sometimes make mistakes in conducting these tests. Furthermore, it is most likely that the Walk and Turn is a task too difficult, and essentially tests the driver on a difficult balance task that they have probably never performed. As such, many professionals agree that this test is flawed. For example, if a driver lifts his arms above 6 inches from his sides for balance once and places his heel a fraction more than a 1/2 inch ahead of his toe on one step then that driver is impaired! This is according to training guidelines published by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.
One Leg Stand
Here the police officer asks the motorist to stand on 1 leg, with the other foot 6 inches off the ground and parallel to the ground. The motorist then has to stare at the raised foot and count out seconds in thousands (“one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand,” and so on). The driver is not allowed to use his arms for balance, just like in the Walk and Turn. According to NHTSA, by simply raising 1 arm away from their body and swaying a little, the driver has indicated that he/she is intoxicated. Most people will agree that this is ridiculous.
The driver, nervous, scared and most likely tired, has been forced to perform three tasks which amount to one medical diagnosis by an unlicensed physician and two balance tricks. Not surprisingly, the driver has not performed these tasks to NHTSA standards. Next comes an arrest and a ride in the back of a police car to the law enforcement center for processing.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Test is routinely conducted for a DUI stops in Spartanburg, South Carolina. John Bateman can help you navigate through all the the complex and overwhelming information for DUI arrests. Contact our office today at 864-402-2556 for a FREE case evaluation, or use the form on this website.