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Key Components of a Field Sobriety Test

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Posted By McAdams Law | December 30 2023 | Blog, Drunk Driving

Field sobriety tests (FST) are based on three tests to determine if a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by drugs or alcohol. These standardized procedures are not without error and subjectivity, allowing for a solid DUI defense in Colorado if you are arrested.

Drivers Can Refuse a Field Sobriety Test

Refusing to submit to a field sobriety test in Colorado is legal. The questionability of these tests makes them unreliable, resulting in failed tests for more than one-third of individuals who take an FST. A closer look at the components of these tests gives a better understanding.

One-leg Stand Test

This test requires divided attention, requiring an individual to stand with feet together and hands by their sides. The instructions will be explained, and then the individual must raise a foot six inches off the ground, keeping both legs straight. Then, while gazing at the raised foot, an individual must count in thousands, starting from one thousand.

An officer will observe, looking for specific signifiers of intoxication, such as losing balance or putting the foot on the ground. The ability to complete this test and the others we discuss can be challenging or impossible when health, mental capacity, and even the environment during the test are compromised.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

HGN refers to an uncontrollable or involuntary motion of the eyes in an individual when moving the eyes to the side. With feet together and hands at the side, an officer will ask the individual to follow an object only with their gaze while holding the head still. An officer will look for indicators of impairment, such as:

  • A continual jerking in the eyes when looking to the side
  • The inability to effortlessly follow the object in front of the eyes
  • The point at which nystagmus, or involuntary eye motion, begins

Alcohol or drug impairment is not the only cause of this uncontrollable eye motion. Other factors can contribute to this involuntary movement and are entirely unrelated to impairment, leading to errors in a DUI charge.

Causes of Nystagmus

Environmental and health factors can significantly influence the results of an FST. These variables should be accounted for if an individual is arrested for DUI. Some of the contributors to nystagmus include:

  • Eye diseases such as glaucoma
  • Inner ear issues
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Medications
  • Temperature extremes
  • Barometric pressure shifts

These are only a few conditions that can contribute to a negative outcome in a field sobriety test.

Walk and Turn

This portion in the battery of tests requires a driver to perform mentally and physically by walking heel-to-toe a certain number of steps with arms at the side, turning a specific way, and taking the same number of heel-to-toe steps back. The officer administering the test will look for particular indicators of impairment, such as struggling to balance when instructions are given, the inability to walk heel-to-toe, stopping while walking, turning incorrectly, or any other failure to follow directions. While the inability to complete these tasks may indicate intoxication, additional factors may contribute to a person’s failure to follow the instructions, such as:

  • Difficulty balancing
  • Mobility issues
  • A person’s weight
  • Injuries to the feet or legs

Documenting these issues is essential in fighting against subjectivity to this test. Each of the key components of a field sobriety test may be influenced by factors unrelated to sobriety. Documenting these incidents to fight a Colorado DUI is imperative to a more favorable outcome.

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