Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are standardized tests are used by the police to get the requisite “probable cause” to take you down to the police station or county jail for a chemical test, such as a breath test for alcohol, in a suspected OUI stop. These tests are called “standardized” because they have to be executed in the same way each time, regardless of the officer performing them.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
- The Walk and Turn test (W&T)
- The One Leg Stand test (OLS)
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) tests look for the involuntary jerking of your pupils, which is brought on by an intoxicant’s effect on the muscles in your eyes. Both the Walk and Turn test (W&T) and The One Leg Stand (OLS) test generally pertain to your balance and ability to follow very specific instructions.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) usually begin with the officer asking you to step outside the vehicle. The officer will not tell you that taking the SFSTs is voluntary. Even though you might think that you are required to take the SFSTs, they are optional. Having read countless police reports for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) arrests, I can tell you two things about the SFSTs:
- The Police never tell you they are voluntary and;
- Not only do the police use the SFSTs to support the probable cause required to take you to the station for a breath test, but the police also use their observations of your performance taking the SFSTs to support their allegation that you were impaired at the time of operating your motor vehicle.
Therefore, the answer to the question (do I have to take the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?) is no, taking the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests is voluntary.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) Do Not Test Your Sobriety
A common misconception is that the SFSTs measure your “sobriety.” In fact, they do not. SFSTs are designed as “divided attention” tests, demanding that you execute physical tasks as well as listen to the officer’s directions at the same time. Granted, it is more difficult in general to divide your attention when you are impaired by an intoxicant, such as alcohol and/or drugs. At the same time, many can find it difficult to divide their attention while stone cold sober.
It is important to keep in mind that while the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are voluntary, taking the chemical test is mandatory.
Some Reasons Why You May Choose to Not Take the SFSTs
In addition to having the SFSTs being voluntary, in many instances is might be against your interests to take the SFSTs. In that the following conditions, you might perform worse on the SFSTs than you would otherwise:
- You are taking a prescription medication that affects your performance on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). For example, certain prescription medications can induce the same involuntary jerking of your pupils as alcohol would. Examples of such medications include central nervous system depressants, such as Valium or Ativan, among others.
- You have physical injuries to your legs or head that would affect your performance on physical tests. When you have an injured leg, ankle, or even a broken toe, your sense of balance can be affected. Any head injuries would definitely affect your sense of balance or coordination. A head injury can even skew your performance on HGN tests. Therefore, these injuries would negatively affect your performance on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).
- You have a physical disability that would prevent you from executing the tests properly. Anything that might affect your ability to stand on one leg would cause problems for your performance on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). Even a significantly overweight person might be affected negatively due to a different center of gravity than a person without these conditions taking the SFSTs.
- You are an older adult. Unfortunately, as we get older, we lose our ability to balance well and divide our attention effectively. As a result, someone who is an older adult can be completely sober and still perform poorly on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.
If the officer is properly trained, they should be able to indentify if you are a good candidate for the SFSTs, as well as ask you if you have any medical conditions that might impact your performance on the SFSTs before administering them.
If you have been charged with an OUI, our committed legal team is ready and willing to answer your questions and put your mind at ease. We encourage you to Contact The Nielsen Group for your free legal consultation with an OUI defense lawyer.