Three Tests

In Ohio, law enforcement officers utilize the field sobriety protocol set forth in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) manual. The three tests used during Ohio field sobriety tests are: (1) horizontal gaze nystagmus, a test of the subject’s eyes; (2) walk & turn; (3) one-leg-stand. The officer giving these tests should have been trained (in all likelihood, he or she was) in administering these tests, including the ability to record “clues” of impairment.

Below is a video from the Daytona Beach Police Department that may give you an idea of what to expect during a field sobriety test.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is the term for an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally whenever a person’s eyes gaze to the side. Nystagmus normally occurs whenever the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. When a person is under the influence of alcohol, though, the nystagmus can be exaggerated and can present at lesser angles. When under the influence of alcohol, a person also has a difficult time tracking an object in a smooth manner.

During the HGN test, the officer will slowly move an object in a horizontal manner, while the driver must follow that object with his or her eyes. The officer will observe the driver’s eye movements, looking for certain indicators of impairment. Specifically, the officer will attempt to discern whether the eye cannot follow the object smoothly, if the jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of the onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. The test can indicate a BAC of .08 or greater if, between the two eyes, four or more “clues” appear. The NHTSA research found that in approximately 88 percent of suspects, those who failed the test were properly classified as intoxicated. The test can also indicate consumption of some medications or other drugs/intoxicants.

Walk & Turn

The purpose of both the “Walk & Turn” and “One-Leg Stand” tests are to determine whether a person can listen to and follow instructions while performing physical movements. Most unimpaired people can perform these two tasks at one time, while impaired people tend to have difficulty dividing their attention in such a way.

During the “Walk & Turn” test, the officer will direct the suspect to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line. Then the suspect will be directed to turn on one foot and walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe, in the opposite direction, returning to the spot the test began. There are eighteen indicators of impairment in this test that the officer will look for: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance, makes an improper turn, or takes an incorrect number of steps. According to the NHTSA research mentioned above, people who fail this test are properly classified as having a BAC of .08 or greater 79 percent of the time.

One-Leg Stand

The “One-Leg Stand” test is similar to the “Walk & Turn” test in that it tests a person’s ability to divide his or her attention. In this test, the officer will instruct the suspect to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands, until the officer tells the suspect to put his or her foot down. The officer will time the suspect for 30 seconds, looking for four indicators of impairment: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down. The NHTSA research found that people who exhibited two or more of those indicators had a BAC of .08 or greater 83 percent of the time.

Should I Take the Field Sobriety Test?

There is no penalty for refusing field sobriety tests. You have the right to remain silent and can choose to exercise that right. However, if you refuse to take the field sobriety tests, that fact can be used against you in court. The police have to administer the tests in substantial compliance with the NHTSA guidelines. If the police fail to do that, the results can be suppressed.

Whether to take field sobriety tests depends on an individuals’ personal attitude. In reality, there are disadvantages and advantages to both taking and refusing field sobriety tests. An attorney can adjust the preparation of his or her client’s case accordingly, depending on whether the tests were taken.

Remember: the field sobriety test is different than the breathalyzer/blood/urine sample that you may be asked to provide. There can be administrative penalties for refusing to take those tests. However, there is not an administrative penalty for refusing a field sobriety test.

Consult a Lawyer to Challenge Your Field Sobriety Test Results

Please remember that nothing on this page is legal advice. It is provided for informational purposes only.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, call my law firm at (216) 566-8200 to schedule a free consultation. Or, you can use the contact form to the right to send an email directly to me.

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