Bowie and Crofton DUI Attorneys Discuss Field Sobriety Tests

Representing clients facing DUI charges throughout Maryland

After you have been pulled over, if the officer can smell alcohol on your breath, if your speech is slurred, or if your behavior is erratic and you are not answering questions appropriately, these observations can add up to probable cause for drunk driving. It is likely he or she will ask you to step out of the car to take a field sobriety test.

Whether you do or whether you refuse, you are going to need a DUI defense lawyer. Carey Law Office represents clients in Bowie, Crofton, and throughout the state who have been charged with driving under the influence. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

The standardized field sobriety tests

There are three standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) which were developed by the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) in the 1970s, and in some states the results of these tests are admissible as evidence in court. Many people automatically comply with the law enforcement officer, because it can feel intimidating to be pulled over late at night and the officer’s demeanor might be adding to your feelings of insecurity. In Maryland, field sobriety tests are voluntary, and the officer cannot require that you take one. If you refuse to take the field sobriety test, you do not face any additional penalties. Taking a field sobriety test gives the officer evidence that can be used against you.

The NHTSA defines the three standardized field sobriety tests as:

1. The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN)

Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball which occurs as the eyes gaze to the side. Alcohol impairment exaggerates the nystagmus, and a person who is impaired by alcohol may have trouble smoothly tracking a moving object with his or her eyes. During the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of the suspect as they follow a slowly moving object such as a pen or a small flashlight horizontally with his or her eyes. The officer looks for signs of impairment if the eyes are unable to track the object smoothly.

2. The walk and turn test (W&T)

The test subject is directed to take nine steps while touching heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the subject must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The officer looks for indicators of impairment, such as the inability to remain balanced, stepping off the line, taking an incorrect number of steps, etc.

3. One-leg stand test

The subject is instructed to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count aloud by one beginning with one thousand (one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.) until told to put his or her foot down while the officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for signs of impairment including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down.

There are factors that might make a person unable to successfully complete a SFST including, eye conditions or disease, age, or injury could affect a person’s balance and ability to perform the one-leg stand or the walk and turn test. (AAA DUI Justice Link)

Is there a legal penalty for refusing a field sobriety test in Maryland?

The field sobriety tests are voluntary in Maryland, and there is no legal requirement to participate. People might decline to take the SFST because they have an injury or a health condition which affects their balance, they might be obese, or otherwise unable to balance on one foot even when they are sober. If you refuse to take the SDST, the law enforcement officer can use your refusal to take the test as further probable cause to arrest you because he or she might assume you are impaired if you are refusing to take the test.

What is the problem with field sobriety tests?

The standardized field sobriety tests are designed to be difficult, and in some cases, a sober person might not be able to pass them. An NBC News affiliate conducted informal field sobriety tests outside of a mall on sober participants. They all passed, but not, as the story said, with flying colors. Some had difficulties with balance and others had difficulty with the one-leg test.

How can a DUI defense lawyer help?

If you have already taken a field sobriety test and were charged with DUI, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Bowie DUI defense lawyer from Carey Law Office immediately. We know how to protect your rights and your future. We are not interested in judging you or your choices. We focus on asserting and protecting your rights, and on doing everything possible to get your charges reduced or eliminated.

At Carey Law Office, every client receives personalized attention. We investigate your case and then we develop a strong defense for you. With offices in Bowie and Clifton, we are here to help you win. You may schedule a consultation at one of our offices to get some insight and legal guidance about your case right away.

If you are facing DUI charges, we are here to represent you

At Carey Law Office, we protect your rights as you move through the criminal justice system after being charged with a DUI. We have had an office in Bowie since 1981, and we have an office in Crofton. Please call 301-464-2500 or fill out this contact form to schedule a confidential consultation with a DUI defense lawyer today.