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Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate In Raleigh, NC?

We recently discussed the admissibility of the Field Sobriety Tests (FST) commonly used at DUI checkpoints and traffic stops in North Carolina. These physical tests are administered in conjunction with a breath alcohol device that is intended to measure the amount of alcohol in your system.

In a word, no. Commonly used by police to determine intoxication, FSTs aren’t foolproof. Although FSTs are the norm, the decision of intoxication lies solely with the officer at the scene. The officer will use his or her own judgment, based on visuals, FSTs, and a breathalyzer to determine whether to complete an arrest based on an assessment of DUI.

What Are FSTs?

There are three standard Field Sobriety Tests that are used in Raleigh and nationwide after an officer has administered a breath or blood alcohol test:

  • A sad man in his red car after failing his field sobriety test in Raleigh, NC.The “Walk-And-Turn” Test, in which you’re asked to walk in a straight line, one foot in front of the other, for a specific number of steps. Your balance as well as your ability to remember the number is observed.
  • The “One Leg Stand” Test, in which you stand on one leg and count to 30, presumably for 30 seconds. The officer will observe to see if you can stand, or you use your arms, hop, sway, or put down your foot while trying to balance.
    • In both of these tests, factors such as age, fatigue, physical condition, injuries, and even uncomfortable shoes can make balancing difficult. Even sober, you may be ruled “intoxicated.”
  • The “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test” (HGN), where the officer checks your eye movement while moving his finger or other object side to side.

Other non-standard tests that may be requested by an officer are reciting the alphabet backwards, putting your finger on the tip of your nose, and counting forward, then backwards. These are not scientific nor standard tests. They are not accurate for determining intoxication, and challenged in court if used to arrest you for DUI.

Challenging the FST Results

The protocols for these standard FSTs were developed in a laboratory under controlled conditions. If you’re being asked to perform them, it’s probably on the side of the road.

The FSTs were developed by the Southern California Research Institute (SCRI), which determined that these three tests were the most accurate for determining intoxication. Initially, their success rate was around 40%. Over time, SCRI standardized the testing so that it gave an 82% success rate. However, this number only reflects the ability to detect intoxication, not the ability to drive a car.

If a police officer stops you, even sober, you are already stressed. The likelihood of being able to perfectly stand on one foot for 30 seconds without wavering or holding up your arms for balance, then counting to 30 (or until told to stop) is very low. Yet this is one of the gold-standard “tests” for determining sobriety in a driver.

The established guidelines for administering the standard FSTs are not always precisely followed. Even correctly administered, the FSTs may inaccurately indicate intoxication. Police officers aren’t penalized for arresting an innocent individual, so they will make the arrest anyway.

As mentioned previously, other factors can inhibit someone’s ability to complete the FSTs. Even with a blood alcohol content (BAC) below the legal limit of 0.08, an officer may make an arrest for DUI based on how you perform when asked.

Results from FSTs are known to be subjective, and offices who incorrectly administer or evaluate will create an inaccurate decision. The results could then be challenged in court.

Defense For DUI And Inaccurate Field Sobriety Testing

Even if you’re 100% sober, FSTs don’t tell the whole story. An experienced DUI attorney can challenge the officer’s findings and request a dismissal of charges dismissed based on the inaccuracy of the FSTs.

Sober or not, a DUI charge is serious, and must be handled correctly to avoid more serious consequences. Dewey P. Brinkley is a Raleigh DUI defense attorney who can aggressively defend you against false DUI charges and protect your rights in court. Call the law offices of Dewey P. Brinkley today for a free initial consultation to discuss your DUI case at (919) 832-0307. You can also email us at dewey@deweypbrinkleylaw.com, or use our online contact form.