Field Sobriety Tests in Napa


Field sobriety tests are agility tests used by the police to establish “probable cause” to request (1) that a driver submit to either a breath or blood test or (2) to make a drunk-driving arrest. These tests are highly subjective and based on the administering officer's own opinion. The results of these tests are without a doubt one of the biggest causes when it comes to the police making bad drunk-driving arrests. Although the administering police officer is supposed to be specifically trained to look for certain scoring indicators, many are not.

If you submitted to field sobriety testing prior to your DUI arrest, it is important that you advise your Napa DUI attorney where the test was administered, how it was administered and which police officer administered the test. Oftentimes, a highly-skilled Napa DUI attorney will be able to get these test results suppressed, thereby removing some of the evidence the police have against you.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

  • Reciting the alphabet or a portion of it (sometimes backwards)
  • Counting the number of fingers that a police officer raises
  • Counting backwards
  • The Finger-to-Nose test — This test requires the driver to close his or her eyes, with arms outstretched, and then bring his or her finger around to touch the tip of the nose.
  • The Rhomberg Stationary Balance test — This test has the driver standing, feet together, and then leaning the head back with eyes closed for approximately 30 seconds.
  • The Hand-Pat test — This test requires the driver to extend his or her hand in front, palm upwards and then place the other hand on top, palm downwards. The driver then ‘‘pats'' the lower hand with the upper hand by rotating it, so that first the lower hand is patted with the palm of the upper hand and then with the back of the upper hand.
  • The Standardized One-Leg Stand test — This test requires the driver to stand on one leg while the other foot is suspended about 6 inches off the ground, followed by the driver's counting aloud by the thousands (“one-thousand and one, one-thousand and two,” etc.) until instructed to put the suspended foot down about 30 seconds later.
  • The Standardized Walk and Turn test — This test requires the driver to take 9 steps, walking heel-to-toe along a straight line with arms by the side and counting aloud. After taking these steps, the driver is then asked to turn on one foot and return walking back in the same manner.
  • The Standardized Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test — This test requires the driver to watch a slowly moving object such as a flashlight or pen while the police officer moves the object back and forth.

Inaccuracy of Field Sobriety Testing

Many people, including police officers, prosecutors, and attorneys are under the impression that field sobriety tests accurately reflect if a driver is impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, but this simply is not the case. With the exception of the three standardized field sobriety tests, none of these tests have ever been validated in any way as being reliable in determining a driver's intoxication. In a number of instances, it has been discovered that drivers have performed badly during field sobriety testing for reasons other than their being intoxicated. Reasons such as coordination, age, health, one's natural sense of balance, and medications that the driver may have taken, as well as road and weather conditions, can have a great affect on how a driver performs when taking such tests. A driver's capabilities when performing these tests can and often do vary greatly from one driver to another. Therefore, they often are poor indicators when it comes to revealing whether or not someone is intoxicated.

Drivers Do Not Have to Submit to Field Sobriety Tests

Contrary to what many believe, drivers are under no legal obligation to submit to field sobriety tests. Unlike refusing to submit to a chemical test, refusing to perform road side aerobics will not result in your driver's license being automatically suspended (unless you were previously ordered to submit to such testing because of a prior DUI arrest/conviction). Oftentimes, the police will ask a driver to submit to such testing just to establish “probable cause” for making a DUI arrest. You have the absolute right to refuse. Furthermore, it most likely is in your best interests to refuse to submit to taking the tests, especially if you have had anything to drink.

As mentioned above, field sobriety tests are very subjective, and the police officer who administers the test is the only “judge” as to whether you pass or fail. Given the best of circumstances, if you do submit to these tests and perform them correctly, the police officer can still claim that your actions during the testing indicated that you most likely were intoxicated and go ahead and make an arrest anyway. Rarely does a driver “pass” these tests. Basically, the chances of a driver's taking these tests and passing them are quite slight; however, the result of a driver's submitting to such tests can greatly hurt him or her when fighting a drunk-driving arrest. A drawback to refusing to submit to these tests is that the police officer most likely will arrest for drunk-driving; however, he or she most likely would have anyway. The bottom line is that you have nothing to lose by refusing, unless of course you are completely sober. This is the only time you should agree to take a field sobriety test.

Napa & Sonoma DUI Attorney

The concept that a driver who is arrested for drunk-driving is automatically guilty is a very bad and inaccurate assumption and one that skilled Napa and Sonoma DUI attorneys have proven to be wrong. Experienced Napa and Sonoma DUI attorneys will carefully review all of the factors involved when a client submitted to field sobriety testing. If the police who administered the tests failed to adhere to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protocols, including his or her having received proper training, the reliability of his or her testimony pertaining to the testing most likely can be suppressed. When it comes to successfully fighting your DUI charges, having a knowledgeable and skilled Napa or Sonoma DUI lawyer by your side is critical.

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