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What you need to know about Field Sobriety Tests

In Ohio, there are three types of field sobriety tests that are commonly used by police officers who are investigating a possible DUI case. These tests have been promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as NHTSA. The three tests commonly used are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, which most people refer to as the "eye test" or the "pen test", The Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. All of these tests have rules which require that they be administered in a certain way.

The most important thing a person should know about field sobriety tests is that you DON’T have to perform them. If a police officer smells alcohol, they will ask a person to get out of their car and tell them they are going to check them to make sure they are ok to drive. Most people do not realize that they can and should refuse to take these tests. Many people cannot pass these tests under any circumstances due to balance issues, or injuries. In most cases, it is in your best interest not to take these tests.

If a person does agree to take field sobriety tests they will usually be performed on the side of the road and the officer will administer them in front of his cruiser to record them on his dash cam. The officer is looking to build a case to show probable cause to arrest by asking you to take these tests.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is performed by having the officer hold a pen, or finger in front of a person's eyes, and move it horizontally back and forth across their field of vision. The officer is not looking for whether the person can keep their eye on the pen. The officer is looking for an involuntary jerking of the eye. This can be caused by impairment from alcohol consumption, but it can also be caused by a number of other things including eye problems, fatigue, and driving while looking straight ahead for a long period of time. This test is the most difficult to administer and if it is not done properly, the results cannot be used against you in court.

The second test is called The Walk and Turn. This test involves having the person stand with one foot in front of the other while the officer gives the instructions. The person then is told to take nine steps, heel to toe on an imaginary line, and to turn at the end with a series of short steps and then take nine steps back. The most common clues that the officers list as failures are when the person moves their feet while the officer is giving instructions, steps off the imaginary line or does not turn correctly. The turn should be made in a series of short steps. Most people just turn around. It is possible to fail this test while walking perfectly straight on the line, which is another reason why it is advisable not to agree to perform this test.

The third test is called The One Leg Stand. It involves instructing the person to lift one leg of their choice off the ground and count for 30 seconds by thousands. The officer usually just tells the person to count, but normally doesn't tell them for how long. The officer will then look to see if the person puts their foot down. The other clues the officers look for are swaying or hopping. Many officers will interpret swaying as even the slightest movement so it is very possible to be scored as a failure for this test even if you don’t put your foot down or lose your balance!

If you do submit to field sobriety tests and are arrested for DUI, it is very important to have your attorney obtain the dash cam video from the arrest that will show these field sobriety tests, the way they were administered, and their results. A challenge could be made that could result in some or all of them barred from being used as evidence against you.