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What You Need to Know: Field Sobriety Tests

Field Sobriety Tests in the Cleveland Area

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

The field sobriety tests are a series of tests intended to predict whether or not someone's BAC will test over 0.10. What? Don't they determine if someone is under the influence? No! Absolutely not. One huge misconception that police, prosecutors, and the public have center around what the field tests are actually supposed to do. What's worse is people often believe the police when they tell them they did well.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The biggest? A field sobriety test does not test what you think it does!

The NHTSA, the organization that establishes the tests, recognizes only three types of tests. Two of these tests observe your ability to perform physical and verbal tasks while having your attention divided, the other test judges your physical clues to having a blood alcohol level over 0.10.

  • There are three field sobriety tests:
  • Walk and turn test
  • One leg stand test
  • HGN test (eye test)

Each of these have reliability issues. For instance, even if performed perfectly, the officer guesses wrong 48% of the time on the HGN. On the walk and turn and one leg stand, the officer guesses wrong approximately 30% of the time. We say "guess" because that is what it is. Officers are not medical professionals. These tests guess what someone's blood alcohol level is-and no one should be prosecuted because of these sobriety tests.

So, What Should I Do...?

This is a tough question. If you elect not to take the test, the police may try to arrest you right away-or threaten to arrest you. However, if you take the test and fail, you have just give the police (and a jury) the evidence necessary to convict you of a DUI. Fortunately, as DUI attorneys, we have had success challenging the field sobriety tests and the way in which they are administered. However, it would be better for our clients if they did not have to challenge that evidence. We cannot advise you to do something that would lead to your arrest.

However, as a citizen, you have the choice between giving the police the evidence necessary to force you to conduct further testing, or you can refuse and be arrested. If you are arrested, you might have to spend the night in jail; however, it is probably preferable to having a DUI conviction for life.

What Happens If I Fail the Field Sobriety Tests?

As former prosecutors, we know how to exclude the government's evidence against you. An officer is only allowed to testify that you were intoxicated if they perform the field sobriety tests in substantial compliance with the NHTSA's guidelines. This might sound like a fairly simple thing to do, but you would be surprised how many police officers fail to properly administer the field tests. An example of a common mistake that police officers make is on the horizontal nystagmus test, or eye test. All officers conducting the test are required to hold the pen approximately 12-15 inches from your face, but often the police officers will hold it far too close.

Another example is on the walk and turn test-the one where you have to take 9 steps in each direction. The police officer will forget to ask you if you understand the instructions. These simple errors by the police might not seem important but when you consider that the field tests are supposed to be scientific tests these errors add up quickly. If you take the test, and you really should not, you are providing the police officers with evidence of your intoxication. If you fail the test the police now have probable cause to arrest you for DUI, and if the test was administered properly they probably have enough evidence to convict you as well.

That's why it is so important to hire a Cleveland DUI lawyer to protect you from these charges.

What If I Failed the Field Sobriety Tests But Refused the Breath Test?

We find that, often, friends give friends advice on a drinking and driving case. This can lead to fairly dangerous results in the courtroom. One common scenario is a friend who says that it is okay to take the field sobriety tests but not the breath test. This advice may actually be good advice in most cases, but-like anything-it depends on the situation. If you plan on refusing to take the breath test, you should plan on refusing to take any tests. If the police smell alcohol on your breath, they are probably going to arrest you anyway. If you are not really intoxicated, or have only had a beer or two, you need to make a choice about what you want to do with your case. Call an experienced attorney to offer you valuable defense from a DUI charge.

Why Was I Charged with OVI When I Passed the Field Sobriety Tests?

  • When you call our office for the first time regarding pending DUI charges, we always ask you to tell us:
  • Why you were pulled over for DUI
  • What you said to the officer when he was at your car
  • How you think you did on the field sobriety tests
  • The results of the breath test, if you took one

The vast majority of our clients feel they passed the tests, but the truth is that almost no one passes. Why? They are almost entirely subjective and can be easily manipulated by an officer asking inappropriate questions or inappropriately demonstrating the test. For instance, the officer can imply that you should start the test NOW but then count it against you when you do not start the test in the way the "book" says you should.

Get experienced legal help! Contact our Cleveland OVI / DUI lawyer today: (440) 709-8088.

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