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What to expect during DUI field sobriety testing

You might never have experienced getting pulled over by a police officer or state trooper, but you have probably seen it happen to someone else. You have likely witnessed officers watching as a driver they suspect of driving while impaired performs various tests of agility and balance.

These are called field sobriety tests. They supposedly help the police determine if a driver is over the legal limit for alcohol, though there are problems with these tests that we will discuss in a moment. In the Columbus area, if you get pulled over on suspicion of OVI, here are the tests the officer might ask you to perform.

  • Horizontal gaze test. Also known as the nystagmus test, the officer will pass a pen or other object in front of your face and have you follow it with your eyes without moving your head. This test is supposed to detect jerks in your gaze that are a sign of intoxication.
  • One-leg stand. As a test of your balance and coordination, the officer orders you to stand with your feet together, then raise one foot about six inches off the ground. While maintaining your balance, you are supposed to count out the seconds aloud (“one thousand one, one thousand two…”) until the officer lets you stop.
  • Walk-and-turn test. For this one, you walk along an imaginary straight line heel-to-toe. Usually, the officer instructs you to walk nine steps, turn and walk nine steps back.

Despite what law enforcement and prosecutors often claim, field sobriety tests are far from perfect. Factors like weather, the grade of the road and the suspect’s nervousness can all contribute to a “failed” test but have nothing to do with how much alcohol they have had to drink. Also, these tests rely on the officer’s judgment, which might be affected by a lack of experience.

It is important to know that you are not required to perform these tests. There are no sanctions for refusing to submit to field sobriety tests. Depending on what happened, it may be possible to show that your arresting officer violated your rights during the field sobriety tests and get some or all of the evidence thrown out.