Even if you’ve never been stopped for a DUI, you might be familiar with field sobriety tests from television and movies. The horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-leg stand, and the walk-and-turn test are all standard non-invasive measures police officers use to determine probable cause for an arrest after they’ve pulled over a driver whom they suspect is impaired. Although it may seem like you need to comply with all orders from a police officer — especially if it looks like you’re about to be arrested — these tests are optional in Florida.
Your implied consent is given on your driver’s license for chemical tests like blood and breath tests that determine your blood alcohol content; however, field sobriety tests are not covered by Florida’s implied consent law. These tests might give the officer a false sense of justification for arresting you, since many people can fail these tests even when they’re sober.
3 Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Florida
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired by drugs and/or alcohol before they may pull the driver over and conduct an investigation for DUI. Reasonable suspicion may be established by observing dangerous driving patterns like weaving in and out of lanes, driving below or over the speed limit, applying the brakes when there is no need, poor control of the vehicle, following too closely, driving without lights on at night, and more.
A police officer who stops a driver for DUI has already established reasonable suspicion. But, he needs more evidence to support his suspicion, so he may conduct field sobriety tests to decide whether or not to arrest the suspect and take him in for a breath or blood test. If you’re stopped for DUI, the officer may ask you to perform strange maneuvers. You have the right to refuse these tests, and your refusal to take them may not be used against you in court. There is no statutory penalty for refusing field sobriety tests, which generally consist of the following:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
What is nystagmus? It’s an involuntary movement of the eyeball that’s made when tracking an object with your eyes from side to side. Normally, nystagmus happens when the eyes move peripherally. But, when a person is intoxicated, you can notice nystagmus at almost any angle.
To look for nystagmus, an officer may request that you track a pen, flashlight, or his finger which he will move from side to side to see how your eyes respond. If there is significant jerking, if your eyes cannot track the object smoothly, or the jerking begins before the eye is 45 degrees of center, these may be signs of physical alcohol impairment.
In a walk-and-turn test, the subject is asked to walk 9 steps heel-to-toe and then to turn around on one foot and walk back another 9 steps in the same manner. This simple test may reveal signs of impairment, such as:
- Being unable to keep your balance while following the instructions
- Pausing during the walk to regain your balance
- Not touching heel to toe when taking steps
- Using your arms to balance
- Taking too few or too many steps
One-leg Stand Test
When asked to take the one-leg stand test, the officer instructs you to stand with one foot six inches off the ground while balancing on the other leg. The officer also requests that you count out loud starting with the number 1,000 until he asks you to put your foot down. The officer may time you for 30 seconds while looking for 4 signs of impairment, which are:
- Swaying to try to keep your balance
- Using your arms for balance
- Hopping to keep your balance
- Putting your foot down
These tests are highly subjective because many people may give signs of impairment while completely sober. Whether you have a health condition or simply cannot balance well, you should not face a DUI charge because of a physical limitation.
Fighting DUI Tests Throughout Palm Beach County
At the Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel, attorney Brian P. Gabriel works dilligently to defend clients accused of DUI in West Palm Beach. He has fought DUI charges for more than 30 years, dedicating a significant part of his career to challenging the results of sobriety tests, including field sobriety tests and breath tests. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation or complete a contact form. Your future deserves a strong defense.