You may have had a couple of drinks while spending time with family or friends. When it came time to drive home, you thought you were okay to do so. Maybe you weaved in your lane, missed a stop sign or committed some other traffic violation seen by a police officer.
After initiating the traffic stop, the officer may have thought you were drunk. He or she asked you to get out of the car and requested that you participate in some field sobriety tests. These tests supposedly determine whether you are intoxicated, but "passing" them can be difficult even if you hadn't been drinking. This is because the tests are largely subjective, and failing them could happen due to any number of things.
The most common field sobriety tests
Many officers perform the same battery of field sobriety tests. The following are the three most common tests performed by officers:
- The one-leg stand test: In this test, you stand on one leg for approximately 30 seconds. The officer may ask you to count out the seconds during the test. Any hopping, using your arms to balance or swaying supposedly indicates impairment.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test: Your eyes naturally jerk as you shift your gaze. In intoxicated people, an exaggeration of this jerking occurs. During this test, if your eyes jerk within 45 degrees of center, fail to smoothly follow an object and jerk at maximum deviation, you may be impaired.
- The walk and turn test: In this test, you must walk heel-to-toe for nine steps, then turn around and do it again. It's assumed that unimpaired people can perform this test without difficulty, so if the officer thinks you failed this test, the assumption is that you are impaired.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration claims that performing this set of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests indicates impairment in over 90 percent of cases.
Field sobriety tests are subjective
The problem with these tests is that they are subjective. They rely on the officer's interpretation of your behavior. In addition, you could also end up failing the tests due to an illness or physical impairment, among other things. Due to these factors, challenging field sobriety tests often ends up a part of any good defense to a DUI charge.
You may not think that going the trouble of challenging as many aspects of your arrest is worth it, especially if this is your first offense. You may believe that paying a fine and maybe spending a few days in jail will put the matter behind you. More than likely, that's not true.
What's at stake
If testing indicates that your blood alcohol concentration was between .07 and .08, you could face the suspension of your license, the addition of eight points on your license, a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. If your BAC was .08 or higher, you could face the suspension of your license, the addition of 12 points to your license, a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
You could also face other hardships. Many employers, including the government, look at criminal histories and driving records when hiring. Your current employer may let you go because of a DUI conviction. Your insurance rates could skyrocket. All of these negative consequences and more could affect your life long after the criminal case ends. You may better serve your interests now and in the future by challenging the charges.