Most people are aware that when a law enforcement officer stops a driver for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), they will often perform a series of field sobriety tests. These are the tests administered at the scene of a DUI stop and prior to an arrest. What most do not realize, however, is that field sobriety tests are not mandatory.
Throughout the years, many policymakers and lawyers have questioned the validity and accuracy of field sobriety tests. In fact, many believe that these pseudo-diagnostic tests are highly subjective – meaning that the person administering them has the ability to determine whether they indicate a person's impairment or intoxication. Breath and blood tests, while not always accurate or free from error, are more objective measurements of a driver's impairment.
Although you are not required to take field sobriety tests, there are few law enforcement officers who will let you know that the tests are not mandatory. This is because these tests can be used in a court of law to provide further evidence of your alleged impairment.
Common Field Sobriety Tests
Typically, a law enforcement officer will adminster a number of individual tests. Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) is a test in which an officer has a driver follow a moving object – commonly a pen – with their eyes. They will observe the driver's pupils and watch for signs that indicate difficulties in smoothly following the object. The horizontal gaze nystagmus has been widely criticized as a testing methodology and can be complicated by various eye conditions.
In addition to the HGN, officers will often require driver's to walk a straight line and turn. This test is also subjective and can be complicated by a number of factors, including a driver's physical condition, weather conditions, and the surface or ground itself. Swaying or difficulty balancing may certainly indicate impairment, but it is not the only factor that may cause these symptoms. One-leg stands, which are among the common tests, are also prone to these same complications. Other tests that may be performed include counting, either silently or aloud, and touching one's finger to their nose with their eyes closed.
What are your options during a DUI stop?
When you are pulled over for a DUI, it is important that you remain calm and aware of your rights. You have the right to refuse field sobriety tests if an officer asks you to perform them, and if you choose to refuse them, you should do so politely. It is also crucial that you understand that while field sobriety tests are optional, chemical tests are mandatory. In fact, Georgia maintains what is known as an implied consent law, meaning that when you refuse to submit to a breath or blood test, you may subject yourself to automatic penalties. Refusing a chemical test can result in an automatic suspension of your driver's license and may subject you to an arrest.
At the Law Offices of Howard J. Weintraub, our Atlanta DUI lawyers are focused on helping clients fully understand their rights. Even if you did submit to field sobriety tests – and you are certainly not alone if you did – there is still always the possibility that these tests can be challenged during your case and defense. Our firm encourages all local residents who have been charged with a DUI to contact an Atlanta DUI attorney from our firm as soon as possible. Find the information you need and the experienced representation you deserve.