If you are pulled over by law enforcement for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the officer will likely ask you to perform one of the standard field sobriety tests. These tests are known to be inaccurate, yet they could be used against you in your DUI case. An experienced Forsyth County DUI attorney can help you fight your DUI charge and possibly challenge law enforcement's tests.
Field Sobriety Tests
Georgia law enforcement employs certain subjective tests to attempt to determine if you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Each test relies on physical signs and the officer's subjective judgment to determine if you are intoxicated.
- Walk and Turn - The driver is instructed to take 10 steps forward, walking heel to toe, turn, and walk 10 steps back. Officers look to see if the driver is able to follow directions correctly and do so without swaying or tripping. This test is standardized according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it can inaccurately imply intoxication if you are disabled, have bad balance, or are simply nervous.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) - This test -- also standardized by the NHTSA -- is widely used throughout the United States and is more scientifically approved than many others. The law enforcement officer will have the driver follow a small object (e.g., a pen) while the officer looks for signs such as the inability to follow the object smoothly and involuntary jerking of the eye.
- One Leg Stand - The driver is asked to stand on one leg in this NHTSA standardized test. Police look for inability to balance or stand. Issues performing this test can lead to a conclusion of intoxication, despite the fact that many people have trouble balancing on one leg completely sober.
- Finger to Nose Test - In this non-standardized test, the driver is asked to extend each arm and touch the tip of his or her nose with an index finger. If you miss the tip of your nose, this may be used as evidence of your intoxication. Some officers ask you to perform another task at the same time, like counting or saying the alphabet backward.
- The Rhomberg Test - During Drug Recognition Expert training, many officers learn the Rhomberg test. The driver stands with his or her feet together, then leans his or her head back to look at the sky while holding arms out to the sky. The police officer then asks the driver to close the eyes and estimate the time for 30 seconds to elapse. During this time, the officer looks for tremors of the eyelids, swaying, and failure to estimate the passage of 30 seconds.
Lack of Accuracy
Peer-reviewed studies have concluded that these kinds of field sobriety tests are not reliable or accurate in determining intoxication. The so-called "scoring" of the tests is very subjective, and the test is often not caught on camera. This means that a jury must rely on the officer's word at trial.
Refusing the Tests
Unlike the official testing, which is part of Georgia's implied consent law, you are under no obligation to perform these field sobriety tests. Police officers, however, will likely not tell you that these tests are voluntary. There is no penalty for refusing to perform the tests listed above. Because these tests are set up for you to fail and to give reason to the officer to arrest you, you can politely refuse to perform a field sobriety test. That is said with a bit of caution: the officer could use your refusal as evidence of a guilty conscience.