DUI Field Sobriety Tests

While Florida’s so-called “implied consent law” requires alleged offenders arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) to submit to chemical tests, the same requirement does not apply to field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests, often called roadside sobriety tests, are usually a series of physical and mental tests that are supposedly used to gauge an alleged offender’s possible impairment.

Many people unaware of their rights agree to perform these tests even though “passing” or “failing” such tests is often a matter of subjective opinion, with most people who agree to take them feeling they did fine and police officers using any one misstep or mistake as justification for an arrest. Worse yet, field sobriety tests are often videotaped and used as evidence against alleged offenders in DUI cases.

Lawyer for DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Brooksville, FL

Were you arrested for DUI after you allegedly failed a field sobriety test in Central Florida? You should immediately retain legal counsel for help reviewing your arrest and fighting to possibly have the criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

Ashley Aulls of The Law Office of Ashley Aulls, P.A. is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Brooksville who represents clients in Weeki Wachee, Spring Hill, Brooksville, and many other communities in the greater Hernando County area. Call (352) 593-4115 right now to have our lawyer provide a complete evaluation by setting up a confidential consultation. 

Overview of DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Florida

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Standardized DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Hernando County

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a training curriculum for police officers in all 50 states to administer three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) to individuals suspected of drunk driving. The three standardized field sobriety tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) — Nystagmus is the term used to describe the involuntary jerking of the eye, an effect that can become more exaggerated if a person is under intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance. In an HGN test, a police officer will observe how well a person’s eyes follow a small object moving slowly from side to side about a foot from that person’s face. If an alleged offender’s eyes cannot smoothly follow the object, a distinct jerking occurs when the eyes are deviated as far as possible in the horizontal plane, and/or the onset of the jerking movement prior to 45 degrees Nystagmus occurs and persists at an angle of gaze less than 45 degrees, these clues may be interpreted as probable cause for a DUI arrest. Numerous medical conditions, however, could cause a completely sober person to fail this test.
  • Walk-and-Turn (WAT) — Alleged offenders are instructed to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in nine heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction. If alleged offenders cannot keep their balance, begin before the instructions are finished, stop walking in order to regain balance, do not touch heel-to-toe, step off the line, use their arms to maintain balance, make an improper turn, or take an incorrect number of steps, these clues may be interpreted as probable cause for a DUI arrest. Any number of external factors (such as weather) could impact a sober person’s performance in this test.
  • One-Leg Stand (OLS) — Alleged offenders are instructed to stand with one foot roughly six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands. The test lasts 30 seconds. Swaying while balancing, using arms to maintain balance, hopping to maintain balance, or putting a foot down can be interpreted as probable cause for a DUI arrest. People who are older, overweight, or have certain medical conditions may fail this test despite being sober.

Depending on the jurisdiction, police officer may also utilize any one of a number of other non-standardized field sobriety tests. Such tests that are not approved by NHTSA include:

  • Romberg Balance Test — Alleged offenders are asked to estimate when 30 seconds have passed while standing with their feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed.
  • Finger-to-Nose Test — Alleged offenders are asked to close their eyes, tilt their heads back, and touch their noses with their index finger.
  • ABC Test — Alleged offenders are asked to recite the alphabet, possibly backwards, or a portion of the alphabet. 
  • Numbers Backward Test — Alleged offenders are asked to count backwards from a certain number.

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Challenging DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Brooksville

People can “fail” field sobriety tests for any one of a number of reasons that have nothing to do with intoxication. A few of the common causes of false positives in field sobriety tests include:

  • Handicaps, preexisting medical conditions, or injuries;
  • Uneven testing surfaces;
  • Driver fatigue;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Improperly provided instructions;
  • Age; or
  • Lack of a baseline.

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Florida Resources for DUI Field Sobriety Tests

A Florida Validation Study of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (S.F.S.T.) Battery — Read the results of a study conducted in collaboration with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) that expanded the examination of SFSTs to the state of Florida. The study found that more than 95 percent of the decisions of PCSO deputies to arrest were correct, while 82 percent of release decisions were correct. The report includes the findings of various other studies as well as several tables and figures.

State v. Taylor, 648 So. 2d 701 (1995) No. 82631 — On January 5, 1995, the Supreme Court of Florida issued it decision in this case presenting a “certified question of great public importance”: Does a DUI suspect’s refusal to submit to pre-arrest field sobriety tests admissible in evidence? The respondent in this case, Taylor, moved to suppress his refusal to take field sobriety tests, arguing that he had not been told by police that he was required to take the tests or that his refusal could be used against him. The county court granted the motion to suppress, the circuit court reversed, and the district court quashed the circuit court order before the Supreme Court quashed the decision of the district court, with Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr. writing:

Taylor had ample incentive to take the tests: He was aware of the circumstances surrounding the officer’s request; he knew the purpose of the tests; and he had ample warning of possible adverse consequences attendant to refusal. Further, he has had some experience in this area–the state attorney asked the trial court to take judicia1 notice of his prior driving record which included two DUI convictions. Taylor had expressly discussed with his lawyer the advisability of taking field sobriety tests. Given the strong incentives to take the tests, Taylor’s claim that his refusal was an innocent act loses plausibility. In short, he knew that refusal was not a “safe harbor” free of adverse consequences and acted in spite of that knowledge. His Taylor had expressly discussed refusal thus is relevant to show consciousness of guilt. If he has an innocent explanation for not taking the tests, he is free to offer that explanation in court.

Justice Gerald Kogan, however, wrote in his dissent:

I would answer the certified question in the negative based on article I, section 9 of the Florida Constitution, which states that residents of this state may not be compelled to be witnesses against themselves in any criminal matter. To permit evidence of a refusal to take sobriety tests is little better than informing the finder of fact that the defendant refused to deny guilt. I further would hold that a roadside sobriety test may only be conducted on the basis of probable cause. People v. Carlson, 677 P. 2d 310 (Colo. 1984); Jones v. State, 459 So. 2d 1068 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984).

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The Law Office of Ashley Aulls, P.A. | Brooksville DUI Field Sobriety Tests Lawyer

If you were arrested for an alleged DUI offense in Central Florida after submitting to any kind of field sobriety tests, it is in your best interest to seek legal representation as soon as possible. The Law Office of Ashley Aulls, P.A. defends clients facing drunk driving charges all over Pasco County, Hernando County, Citrus County, and Sumter County.

Brooksville criminal defense attorney Ashley Aulls understands the inherent flaws of these kinds of tests and can fight to call the results in to question. You can have him review your case and discuss all of your legal options when you call (352) 593-4115 or fill out an online contact form to set up a consultation.

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