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What happens during a Field Sobriety Test?

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are an important element of a DUI case. Law enforcement officers use them to assess a driver's physical and cognitive abilities and determine potential impairment. Understanding what happens during these tests is essential for anyone facing a DUI charge.


At Richards and Colburn Law, we understand the complexities surrounding field sobriety tests and the impact they can have on your case. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, contact us for a consultation at any time.


Now, let’s take a closer look at the FST and its role in the DUI case.


What Happens During a Field Sobriety Test?

During a field sobriety test, the officer usually administers three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs):


The Walk-and-Turn Test

This test assesses a person’s ability to listen and follow instructions while executing tasks requiring balance and coordination. The instructions usually involve taking nine steps forward in a straight line, pivoting, and then returning in nine steps.


One-Leg Stand Test

This test measures the suspect's balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions. The officer asks the person to stand on one foot while raising the other six inches off the ground for approximately 30 seconds while counting aloud.


Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

During this test, the officer observes the person’s eyes as they follow a slow-moving object such as a penlight. The presence of an involuntary jerking of the eyeball, known as nystagmus, can indicate impairment.


Law enforcement officers will thoroughly explain the tests and observe and document the person’s performance. Any indication of balance issues, inability to follow instructions, or odd eye movements could lead the officer to believe the driver is impaired.


A sober person may fail the sobriety test for several reasons, including certain medical conditions, disabilities, and injuries. Some medications may also interfere with the ability to pass the test. The officer usually asks the driver if any reasons besides intoxication could cause them to fail the test. This reply becomes a part of the official arrest report.


Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

Refusing a field sobriety test can have an impact on the arresting officer's probable cause to make a DUI arrest. 


If you refuse to take the test, the officer may rely on other factors, such as observed behavior, odor of alcohol, or driving patterns, to establish probable cause for an arrest.


A refusal can have consequences in legal proceedings related to a DUI arrest. By refusing the test, the driver is in violation of implied consent laws, which state that by accepting a driver's license, individuals agree to submit to sobriety testing when requested by law enforcement. These violations can lead to legal consequences including, but not limited to:


License Suspension

In Tennessee, refusing a sobriety test for the first time can lead to a one-year revocation of your driver’s license. If you refuse a FST after an accident that caused a serious injury, the suspension could last two years.


Adverse Inference

Refusing a field sobriety test can be used against you in court. Prosecutors may argue that your refusal suggests consciousness of guilt or an attempt to hide impairment.


Jury Perception

If your case goes to trial, a jury may perceive your refusal to take a field sobriety test negatively. They may interpret it as an unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Refusing a field sobriety test does not mean you will automatically be convicted of DUI. It is important to consult a qualified attorney who can help develop a defense strategy based on the specific circumstances of your case.


How Richards & Colburn Law Can Help

The importance of competent legal representation in matters related to field sobriety tests can't be overstated. Just as the tests themselves can significantly affect the outcome of a case, so too can the quality of your defense.


At Richards & Colburn Law, we understand the intricacies of FSTs and their impact on DUI cases in Tennessee. We stay abreast of the latest legal nuances to build a robust and compelling defense strategy. Our firm is deeply committed to advocating for our clients, ensuring their rights are protected throughout the legal process.


For legal guidance and support in DUI cases, contact our experienced legal team at any time.


Image Credits: Yuriy K // Shutterstock

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