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Know Your Rights about New York Field Sobriety Tests

Long Island DUI Lawyers Explain the Facts about Roadside Sobriety Tests

You probably know that as a condition of your driving license you have given your implied consent to a test of your blood alcohol content (BAC) if you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, and that you face fines and the loss of your license if you refuse the test. However, it is important to know the difference between a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine, which can be required, and a field sobriety test, which is another type of test altogether. Read on to learn more about roadside sobriety tests in New York, and contact 888-DUI-LAWYER if you have been arrested for DUI in Long Island.

Field Sobriety Tests and BAC Tests Distinguished

There is a very important difference between a field sobriety test and a chemical test that measures your BAC. A BAC test, such as a breathalyzer, is conducted only after an officer has probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence. A field sobriety test, on the other hand, is normally used when the police officer only suspects that you may be DUI but does not have enough cause to arrest you or order you to take a breathalyzer. The purpose of the field sobriety test, or FST, is to give the officer the cause he or she needs to order you to take a breathalyzer. By agreeing to a FST, you are freely giving the police evidence to use against you and helping them build your case.

There are Only Three Standard Field Sobriety Tests

A FST can be anything the officer decides to make you do to observe your physical and mental state and decide whether you may be intoxicated. There are only three tests, however, that have been standardized and validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). The following are the only three standard FSTs:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) – The officer drags a pen or flashlight across your field of vision and looks for involuntary jerking of your eyes as they follow the movement of the pen

Walk and Turn – You are told to walk a straight line for nine steps touching heel-to-toe each time, then turn on one foot and come back the same way. The officer looks for 8 indicators of impairment, such as balance issues, stopping while walking, using your arms to balance yourself, stepping off the line, taking the incorrect number or steps, etc.

One-Leg Stand – You are made to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count by ones starting at one thousand (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one thousand-three…) until told to stop. This test lasts for 30 seconds. The officer looks for behaviors such as swaying, using your arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, putting your foot down, etc.

As you can imagine, there are many reasons why a person could perform badly on these tests, such as having poor balance due to age, an injury or illness, or simply being very nervous under these conditions. Even the HGN test can be failed due to different types of eye disease. The police should ask you if you have any limiting conditions before conducting FSTs, but they do not always do so. Even when they do, some people are simply too nervous or scared to say they do and feel pressured into complying with an officer’s request.

Other tests, such as requiring you to recite the alphabet backwards or tilt your head back, stretch your arm out and touch your nose with your eyes closed, have shown no scientific validity or reliability and simply should not be given at all. The standard FSTs should only be given by an officer who is trained and experienced in administering and scoring them.

How Valid are Field Sobriety Tests?

Most FSTs are highly subjective and depend heavily on the attitude and judgment of the examiner. Even the so-called standard tests, although validated by NHTSA, are not actually “certified” or “approved” by NHTSA. In fact, these tests were originally validated as reliable for a BAC of .10% or more. Only later were they validated for lower BACs as the laws changed to drop the DUI threshold to .08% (and .04% for commercial driver’s license holders). This later “validation” consisted of seven police officers collecting data during routine patrols and adjusting the scoring of the FSTs in order to make them line up with actual BAC results.

It is important to understand that “failing” a field sobriety test depends on how the officer scored you based on the officer’s observations, and different scores only reflect the probability that a person is intoxicated; they cannot actually establish intoxication with any degree of certainty. Even the standard FSTs are subjective and open to interpretation; they can often be attacked at trial by an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

What Happens if You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in New York

When a police officer asks you to do something, it can be unclear whether it is a request or a command. For instance, the police have the authority to order you to step out of the vehicle, so even if they are asking politely, that does not mean you have the right to refuse. When it comes to sobriety tests, however, the law only requires you to submit to a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine, and only after you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI. There is no criminal penalty for refusing a roadside sobriety test; you will not be arrested on that basis, and your license will not be suspended or revoked either. Your refusal is admissible against you in court, however, and the manner in which you refuse will be observed by the officer for signs of intoxication. Refusing to take a field sobriety test does not mean that you won’t be arrested, but it does mean that you will not be providing the police with additional reasons to arrest you and force you to take a breathalyzer. Of course, if you believe you can perform these tests competently, and you don’t show other signs of intoxication or impairment, taking and passing the FSTs could prevent an arrest or serve as evidence in your favor if you are arrested.

Call 888-DUI-LAWYER after a Long Island DUI Arrest

If you have been arrested in Long Island for drunk driving, call 888-DUI-LAWYER to speak with a qualified and experienced New York DUI defense attorney. We will look at all the circumstances surrounding your arrest, including field sobriety tests, and provide you with practical legal advice and strong representation to get the best result.

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© 2017 888 DUI Lawyer, Richard S. Jaffe, ESQ., Partner, Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP. All rights reserved.
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