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Learn About Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

Take These Tests At Your Own Risk

A little known “Secret” about driving under the influence (DUI) cases in Rhode Island involves the administration of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST’s).  Most drivers have an idea about what these tests are, but almost no motorist knows that they do not have to perform these tests.  In fact, it is almost never a good idea to perform them.  Of course, the police officer will not tell a driver that he does not have to perform the tests.  As a result, most drivers perform these tests . . . and generally fail them without even knowing how or why.

At Sayer Regan & Thayer, LLP, we do not advocate driving under the influence of alcohol.  However, we believe that if you are stopped for suspicion of a DUI, you should know your rights and responsibilities.  Therefore, what follows is a description of the SFST's and the proper way they are to be administered.

You can learn more about the SFSTs, and a whole lot more by ordering a FREE copy of our book, The DUI Trap:  The Rhode Island Survival Guide to DUI and Refusal Charges.

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed standardized procedures for the administration of the three FSTs which NHTSA considers to be a reliable indicator of intoxication. Police officers in Rhode Island are taught how to administer and use these tests to obtain DUI convictions for allegedly impaired drivers.  In reality, all these tests are designed to accomplish is to provide the police officer with enough evidence to establish the necessary probable cause to make an arrest.  The problem with these tests is that they are extremely unreliable as an indication of alcohol impairment.

The three tests developed by NHTSA are:  (1) The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), (2) The Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and (3) The One-Leg Stand (OLS). The administration of any other field sobriety tests is not recognized by NHSTA as reliable. 

HORIZONTAL GAZE NYSTAGMUS

"Nystagmus" is an involuntary twitching or jerking of the eye.  In administering this test, a police officer looks for three clues:  

·         Lack of smooth pursuit

·         Distinct Nystagmus at maximum deviation

·         Onset of Nystagmus prior to 45 degrees 

To administer this test properly, a police officer must instruct the motorist to stand with his feet together, arms aside.  The police officer then should instruct the driver to keep his head still and to "follow the stimulus (usually a pen, or a flashlight) with only his eyes". 

The officer then checks the driver’s eyes for: (1) equal tracking, (2) lack of smooth pursuit (the involuntary jerking the driver’s eyes move from side to side), (3) Nystagmus at maximum deviation (this occurs when the driver’s eyes are brought all the way out to the shoulder and no white is visible at the outside of the eye), and (4) the onset of Nystagmus prior to 45 degrees (this occurs when the driver’s eyes are brought out from center very slowly).  In this final phase, the police officer must note the angle at which the Nystagmus begins. 

One of the biggest problems with this test is that most police officers do not administer this test exactly as NHTSA requires.  And, administering the test incorrectly can actually cause the Nystagmus the prosecution will try to use to convict the driver. 

WALK AND TURN

When properly administered, this test is composed of two stages, (1) The “instruction” stage and (2) The “walking” stage.  The police officer must administer this test exactly as NHSTA requires.  Each phase will be detailed separately:

The “Instruction” Phase:

In this phase the police officer must instruct the driver to:

·         Place his left foot on the line and demonstrate exactly how that is to be done,

·         Place his right foot in front of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of the left foot.  Again, the officer must show the driver exactly how to do this, 

·         Keep his arms down at his side.  Again, the officer must show the driver exactly how to do this, and 

·         To keep this position and don't start until told.

The police officer must then instruct the driver to walk nine “heel-to-toe” steps forward, and then turn by keeping the lead foot on the line and taking several small steps with the other foot.  The driver must then walk nine “heel-to-toe steps” back.  Both the steps and the turn should have been demonstrated by the police officer. 

The “Walking” Phase:

In this phase the police officer must instruct the driver to:

·         Keep watching his feet, 

·         Keep his arms at his sides, 

·         Count the steps out loud, and

·         Don't stop walking until the test is completed.

According to NHTSA, there are eight visual clues that the police officer must looks for.  These clues are as follows: 

1.   Can't balance during instructions 

2.   Starts too soon 

3.   Stops while walking 

4.   Doesn't touch heel to toe 

5.   Steps off the line 

6.   Uses arms for balance 

7.   Improper turn (or loses balance on turn) 

8.   Wrong number of steps 

A driver FAILS this test if the police officer observes only two of the eight clues.

ONE LEG STAND

When properly administered, this test is also composed of two stages, (1) The “instruction” stage and (2) The “balance and counting” stage.  Just like the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus and Walk And Turn tests, the One Leg Stand test has a very specific procedures that the police officer must follow.

The “Instruction” Phase:    

In this phase the police officer must instruct the driver to:

 


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