In Maryland, police don’t have complete freedom to stop any driver they see and give him or her a set of field sobriety tests. The first line of defense in any DUI case is whether the police had proper grounds to stop a driver and pull him/her off to the side of the road. The proper grounds standard in Maryland is less strict than the “probable cause” standard for obtaining a warrant. The police must have a reasonable suspicion that a driver violated any traffic law. If the officer sees a driver speeding, swerving, or violating any traffic law, that’s a reasonable suspicion.
There are three standard field sobriety tests that officers typically give. If a driver fails any of these tests, officers will usually ask the driver to submit to a breathalyzer test. Law enforcement can, however, arrest a driver for DUI based on just the failure to pass the field sobriety tests.
The field sobriety tests must conform to proper procedures. The tests are standardized, which means officers should understand what tests they can give and how they must give them. Skilled criminal defense lawyers have the right to challenge any tests beyond the standard three. They can also challenge the standard three tests for non-compliance with the correct ways for giving those three tests.
The three standard field sobriety tests
Maryland officers are trained to give drivers they suspect of drunk driving three field sobriety tests:
- One leg stand. The officer asks the driver to stand on level ground. If the ground isn’t level, then the test can be challenged. The driver will need to lift one leg about six inches off the ground. He/she will then count out to 30. The officer is looking to see:
- If the driver needs to use his/her arms to stay balanced
- If the driver can keep his/her foot in the air the full 30 seconds
- If the driver moves back and forth, or “sways”
The officer will record any failure to perfectly perform this test as “clues” of intoxication.
- Walk and turn. The officer asks the driver to walk (heel to toe) nine steps, turn, and return to the starting point. The driver should count the steps while walking. Again, the ground should be level. The officer will check the number of steps, the driver’s balance, whether the driver touched heel to toe on each step, turned around using the correct “pivot” maneuver, and whether he/she needs to use his/her arms.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. This test focuses on the driver’s eyes. The driver will look at an object and then follow its movement as the officer moves it back and forth. If the eye movement isn’t smooth, this can be grounds for arrest. This test can be challenged on the basis of medical evidence. Tumors, sedatives, and some diseases can explain the failure of a driver to move his/her eyes smoothly.
Medical evidence can be used to challenge any of the three tests on the basis that they don’t sufficiently indicate the driver was intoxicated. There may be explanations for failing these tests in addition to unlevel ground and medical disorders. Older people, for example, may not be as physically fit as younger drivers.
Other defenses include
- The officer not informing you exactly of what you must do during each test
- Bad weather such as rain or snow
- The effects of leaving the lights flashing on the police car during your test
- Language barriers
At Carey Law Office, our DUI defense lawyers use every legal and factual argument possible to help have charges dismissed. This includes working to show field sobriety tests should be suppressed. We also fight to have the results of breathalyzer tests dismissed. For help with a DUI charge, call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent clients who throughout Maryland. Our offices are located in Bowie and Crofton.