Field Sobriety Testing in DWI Cases
How a Bronx DWI/DUI Attorney Can Help You Fight the Evidence
If an officer suspects that a driver is operating their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, they will pull the driver over and attempt to assess the individual's level of intoxication. The officer must have probable cause to stop you for suspected drunk driving, which can include such behavior as speeding, alternating between very fast and very slow speeds, swerving between lanes, driving without the headlights on, and failing to obey traffic signals and laws.
If you are pulled over under the suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI), the officer will ask you to submit to testing to determine your level of sobriety, which can be done through field sobriety tests, blood tests, or breath tests. These methods of testing differ in that blood and breath tests provide the officer with a fairly accurate measurement of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), while field sobriety tests are used to help the officer approximate how intoxicated you are. Because this method results in an approximation of your intoxication level, it is important to call a Bronx DWI defense lawyer right away if you were charged with DWI after a field sobriety test; you may be able to fight the evidence.
The Different Types of Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety testing is done at the scene of the stop and is used by law enforcement officers to assess whether an individual is intoxicated based on their ability to complete specific tasks. This method does not measure your BAC but determines if you are too intoxicated to drive based on whether or not you are capable of performing tasks that are presumably simple for a person who is sober to complete. There are three main types of tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the field sobriety testing must be administered according to recognized standards and the officer must be on the alert for specific red flags of intoxication.
Walk & Turn
The purpose of this test is to determine whether you are able to divide your attention between two simple tasks. To administer the test the officer will instruct you to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and then return to the starting position in the same manner. While you perform the test the officer will evaluate your intoxication level by observing your performance for eight indicators of impairment.
The eight indicators of impairment include:
- You cannot stay balanced while listening to the officer's instructions
- You begin walking before the officer has instructed you to do so
- You step off of the line
- You take more steps than instructed
- You do not take heel-to-toe steps
- You have to stop walking to regain balance
- You have to use your arms to maintain balance
- You fail to turn as instructed
One Leg Stand
Much like the walk and turn, this testing method assesses your ability to divide your attention between tasks. To perform this test you will be instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off of the ground while you count aloud by thousands until you are told to stop, which is usually after 30 seconds or so.
During the test the officer will be observing you for certain indicators of impairment, including:
- You do not follow instructions
- You sway while balancing
- You must use your arms to stay balanced
- You must hop to stay balanced
- You place your foot on the ground before you are told to do so
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
This method of testing is based upon horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is the name for the ways in which the eyes naturally and involuntarily jerk when they are rotated at high peripheral angles. When intoxicated, nystagmus becomes more exaggerated, even when the eyes are rotated at lesser angles. The eyes also have more difficulty smoothly tracking moving objects when intoxicated. The HGN test enables the officer to assess your level of intoxication by your ability to hold your head still and track with only your eyes an object that moves horizontally before you, such as a small flashlight or pen.
While you perform this test, the officer will observe your eyes for specific indicators of impairment, such as:
- One or both of your eyes cannot smoothly track the moving object
- Your eyes jerk when the onset angle is within 45 degrees of center
- Your eyes distinctly jerk at maximum deviation
Fighting Field Sobriety Test Results
While a breath or blood test can more accurately determine a driver's BAC, the results of a field sobriety test are highly subjective and can be negatively impacted by a number of factors. If you were arrested and charged with DWI after taking a field sobriety test, don't wait to obtain knowledgeable legal counsel. The Bronx criminal defense lawyer at our firm can evaluate the circumstances that led to our charges to assess whether your rights were violated or if your results were influenced by other factors.
We may be able to have the evidence thrown out by the judge or the charges reduced or dropped if your field sobriety testing was impacted by any of the following factors:
- The officer did not have probable cause to stop your vehicle
- The officer's instructions were unclear
- You were unable to hear the officer's instructions because of the noise of passing traffic
- You were distracted by the noise and lights of passing traffic
- You struggled to understand the officer's instructions because you are not a native English speaker
- You are overweight or have a physical disability
- You have a preexisting medical condition that impacted your performance
- You were stressed or embarrassed about being stopped and couldn't focus on the tests
- Your footwear was unstable and made it difficult to perform the tests
- The ground was covered with gravel, sand, water, or another slippery substance
At The Law Offices of Elliot S. Kay our team is dedicated to helping the people of New York City protect their rights and interests in the face of criminal charges. We understand the serious consequences a conviction would have on your life, freedoms, and future; our firm can fight tirelessly against the charges. Before making any decision about how you will plead before the court, it is crucial that you have all the necessary information.