Millions of Americans are arrested for driving under the influence each year, with most stops beginning the same way: a surge of red and blue strobe lights in your rearview mirror. The tap of a flashlight rapping on the window initiates a series of tests that might include walking on a white line or reciting the alphabet. This brief examination—which, in Florida, typically involves a one-legged stand, horizontal gaze nystagmus, and a walk-and-turn—is known as a field sobriety test.
A field sobriety test, in addition to other observations, is used as an element to determine if you’ve been drinking and driving. However, it’s not uncommon to be completely sober and still fail a field sobriety test. Without a lawyer by your side to protect your rights after a failed test, the outcome can be devastating.
Breaking Down Why Sober Drivers Sometimes Fail Field Sobriety Tests
An arrest for a crime you didn’t commit may be your worst nightmare. Unfortunately, by submitting to a field sobriety test, this fear may become a reality given that it can be just as easy for a sober driver to fail as an impaired driver. Note that Florida law allows a police officer to request that a driver take a field sobriety test if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence. However, there is no law or Florida State Statute that requires a Florida driver to submit to a field sobriety test. Given the reality of these tests, submitting to one might be a mistake.
There are a number of reasons why an individual who hasn’t been drinking might fail these tests, including illness or uneven pavement. Likewise, the results are subject only to an officer’s judgment, which are often biased if they want to establish probable cause to arrest you. In fact, research shows that officers are overwhelmingly likely to overestimate a person’s BAC based on the results of these tests.
Here are the three basic components of a field sobriety test and the reasons why sober drivers sometimes fail them.
During this test, you must stand with one foot approximately 6 inches off the ground and pointed while keeping perfect balance and counting to 30. Your arms are to remain at your side and you must be looking down the entire time. The one-leg stand test is notoriously inaccurate and, even under ideal conditions, is considered little better than flipping a coin to determine blood alcohol content. If you don’t have great balance, you’re likely to fail this test no matter your sobriety.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
In this test, the officer asks the driver to follow the movement of an object about one foot from the driver’s face. They’ll check for an involuntary jerking or bouncing motion of the eye called “nystagmus.” The approximate angle at which the eye begins to jerk indicates the possible level of intoxication. While this test is the most scientific of all common testing methods, it’s still open to interpretation and highly subjective. While alcohol is shown to cause nystagmus, it’s not the only cause. This makes the reliability of the test shaky.
During this test, the driver is asked to walk in a straight line for nine steps heel-to-toe while counting out loud, turn in a specific manner, and return the same way. Officers look for signs of intoxication including stumbling, swaying, or an inability to stay in line.
Several problems exist with the walk-and-turn test, including the fact that it may be difficult to perform correctly the first time. While holding a balancing stance, the officer will instruct you to perform a series of tasks while announcing instructions in rapid order, all of which make it hard for the test subject to follow and remember. Other factors can make this kind of task even more difficult. For example, you may have a medical condition, be fatigued, be significantly overweight, or suffer from anxiety.
Contact an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer in West Palm Beach
If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence in Florida based on a failed field sobriety test—especially if you were sober at the time of the arrest—it’s important that you get in touch with an experienced DUI defense lawyer in West Palm Beach as soon as possible. For legal assistance, look no further than The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel.
Attorney Brian Gabriel has served the community of West Palm Beach for more than 30 years as a DUI defense attorney. He understands the complexities that are often involved in these cases and can help protect your reputation and future. After a DUI arrest and a failed sobriety test, you can be assured that attorney Brian Gabriel will fight for your rights. Call (561) 622-5575 or complete our contact form for a free consultation.