When police officers pull over a driver and suspect them of driving under the influence in Greenwich, they will often request that the driver perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). These tests are used as a basis for a DUI arrest. The SFSTs were designed to test a person’s coordination, balance, and ability to follow instructions, which are considered indicators of impairment. These tests are standardized, which means that the way that officers administer them is (or should be) consistent across all police departments. The three SFSTs include: the (1) Horizontal gaze nystagmus, (2) Walk-and-turn test, and (3) One-leg stand test.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
The horizontal gaze nystagmus is the first of the three tests and often considered the most accurate indicator of intoxication. This test is given by a police officer, oftentimes on the side of the road. The officer holds out a small object like a pen about one foot in front of the driver’s face and moves it from side to side as the driver tracks it with their eyes.
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While tracking the pen, the officer will watch the eye movements to see if they are smooth or if there is nystagmus, which is subtle jerking movements of the eyes. This jerking, or nystagmus, can be an indicator of impairment. Often nystagmus occurs without the driver even realizing that it is happening. However, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is not 100% accurate. Factors that could alter the accuracy of the nystagmus test include wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses or suffering from a concussion or a brain injury. These can be other causes for nystagmus or irregular eye tracking. A good Greenwich DUI defense lawyer will look into other causes for nystagmus as part of your defense.
The walk-and-turn is the second of the standardized field sobriety tests. It is a divided attention test that tests the driver’s ability to focus on their movements while also following specific directions given by the officer. For this test, the officer will direct the driver to walk along an imaginary straight line, taking nine steps heel-to-toe.
Any deviation in the officer’s instructions could result in a failed test. Following each instruction, no matter how small, is critical. The officer will also look for several indicators of intoxication such as not touching heel to toe, starting too soon, stopping at any point while walking, stepping off of the imaginary straight line, taking the wrong number of steps, losing balance, and using arms for balance. Mistakes in the physical walking or following the officer’s instructions could result in a failed result.
Finally, the one-leg stand, similar to the walk-and-turn, is a divided attention test where the driver must focus on their physical movements and count aloud simultaneously. The driver will stand on one leg while balancing the other leg above the ground and count to thirty. The officer will also look to see if there is any swaying while balancing, using arms for balance, putting a foot down, or hopping, all of which could result in a failed result.
Greenwich has had its share of high-profile DUI cases and arrests due to its population size, proximity to Stamford and other cities, and highly traveled roads. Greenwich residents and travelers should remember that if pulled over by the police and asked to perform standardized field sobriety tests, you have the right to decline to take these tests as well as decline to answer their questions. If you have been charged with a DUI or have more questions about SFSTs, call Lady DUI today.