/ 3.28.23

Are Field Sobriety Tests Enough for a DUI Conviction?

Written by: Doug Ridley

What You Need to Know About Field Sobriety Tests

If you are suspected of driving under the influence in California you might be asked to perform a series of roadside field sobriety tests (FSTs). Field sobriety tests are not required by law. They are optional and may not be accurate indications of someone’s intoxication level.

At Ridley Defense, we represent individuals who have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Southern California. Founding attorney, Doug Ridley, is a former Ventura County deputy district attorney. He and the entire legal team at Ridley Defense are well-versed in handling complex criminal cases, including alcohol-related charges.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Southern California, contact our office at (805) 208-1866 to schedule a complimentary consultation. 

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests are physical and mental tests officers administer to individuals they suspect have been driving under the influence. Officers receive training on the administration of FSTs and use clues to help determine whether someone is intoxicated. An officer will generally note how someone performed on their FSTs in the arrest report and may use the information to support probable cause for an arrest.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes four standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs):

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
  • Walk-and-Turn (WAT)
  • One Leg Stand (OLS)

Many officers will also administer non-standardized FSTs including the Romberg Balance Test, Finger-to-Nose Test, and Finger Count Test. 

Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?

There is considerable debate about whether field sobriety tests are accurate indicators of a person’s intoxication. 

A manual released by NHTSA suggests that the accuracy of the SFSTs at detecting a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher was:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus - 88%
  • Walk-and-Turn - 79%
  • One Leg Stand - 83%

However, it is important to note that many officers give directions incorrectly or ask individuals to perform the test in less-than-ideal conditions such as on uneven surfaces bringing into question the validity of the tests. 

Can Failed FSTs Result in a Conviction?

First, it is imperative to remember that field sobriety tests are not mandatory. You can politely decline to perform the tests. If you do submit to testing, how you perform the tests may be used against you. If you were arrested for a DUI and were told you “failed” your FSTs, you need to speak to an attorney immediately. 

Officers will often note that a person “failed” their FSTs, despite the fact that they are not pass/fail tests. Officers are trained to look for clues or signs of intoxication. Signs that an officer is looking for include failing to follow instructions, using arms for balance, or starting the test before the officer is done giving instructions.

Arrested for DUI in Southern California? Contact Our Office.

If you were arrested for driving under the influence in Southern California, you need experienced legal representation. Contact our office at (805) 208-1866 to schedule a complimentary consultation. Our lawyers can help you understand your rights and will walk you through the legal process. Call our office now to speak directly with a member of our legal team. 

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