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When asked to take field sobriety tests, what does that entail?

Police officers in Arizona and all over the country pull people over every day for suspected impairment. When they do, these individuals are often asked to submit to field sobriety testing. If you have never taken part in these tests before, you may wonder what they entail.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there are three field sobriety tests that they consider the gold standard. This is because, out of all them, these three tend to produce the most accurate results. What are the three standard tests and do you have to participate when asked?

Test number one: The walk and turn

Just what it sounds like, this test involves walking a straight line, turning and walking the line back to the starting point. While you are performing this test, the officer will be looking for your ability to balance while walking heel-to-toe without using your arms or swaying.

Test number two: The one-leg stand

This test involves balancing on one leg while lifting the other foot off the ground. To pass this test, you have to hold the position for about 30 seconds without swaying, hopping, using arms for balance or putting your foot down for balance.

Test number three: HGN

The horizontal gaze nystagmus is the test that stands out from the others. Here, officers are not looking at how well you can balance, they are looking at a natural jerking movement your eyes make when rolled side to side and up and down. Everyone's eyes do this, regardless of impairment. When impaired, the jerking motion is supposedly exaggerated.

Must I?

No. Just because an officer asks you to submit to field sobriety testing, it does not mean you have to. You would be well within your rights to refuse. Just know that there may be consequences for doing so, and you could find yourself arrested anyway.

Failed or refused - now what?

People fail field sobriety tests for a number of reasons besides impairment. These tests may seem easy enough, but a number factors can affect one's performance, such as:

  • Medications
  • Age
  • Shoes
  • Ground conditions
  • Officer's opinion

If you find yourself in police custody after allegedly failing or refusing a field sobriety test, it does not mean a conviction is secured. You have the ability to defend yourself, which you can do by questioning test administration, officer actions and any other evidence offered against you. By fighting the DUI charge, you may achieve a case dismissal or at least a reduction in charges.

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