The Facts About Field Sobriety Tests

Though police in Philadelphia routinely use field sobriety tests during traffic stops, these tests are not necessarily reliable when it comes to measuring a driver's sobriety. At Kenneth L. Baritz & Associates, P.C., our defense lawyers regularly come across police testing errors that have led to improper charges against our clients. Here are the facts about field sobriety tests.

Common Field Sobriety Tests

The standard field sobriety alcohol tests that most police departments use are:

  • Eye test: Technically called the "horizontal gaze nystagmus test," this is where the officer tells the suspect to follow a pen, flashlight or other object with his or her eyes. Nystagmus is the natural, involuntary jerking your eyes do when moving side-to-side. Alcohol makes these jerks more pronounced.
  • Walk-and-turn test: In this test, the officer orders you to walk along a straight line, turn on one foot and return. This is supposed to test your ability to perform a task with divided attention.
  • One-leg stand test: The suspect is ordered to balance on one foot for several seconds to measure his or her coordination.

Other tests include having the suspect recite the alphabet, close his or her eyes and touch his or her nose with a finger, and tilt his or her head back while holding his or her arms to the side.

Why Are These Tests Often Wrong?

There are two big problems with field sobriety tests:

  1. They are subjective. Field sobriety tests rely on the police officer's judgment, which may be affected by inexperience or poor training.
  2. They lack context. There are many reasons someone could fail a field sobriety test that has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. For example, an uneven road, weather conditions or a disability could cause you to lose your balance. But police do not always take these things into account.

Let's Get Started On Your Defense

Every case is different, but our criminal defense attorneys have successfully gotten DUI charges reduced or dismissed for numerous clients. If you have been charged with DUI, call us right away at 866-415-6588 or email us to schedule a free initial consultation. We represent clients throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, including Delaware and Philadelphia counties.