The Standard Field Sobriety Tests are approved by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). Police officers undergo training in the academy and in seminars to learn how to administer and score the tests. Attorney Brian H. Clark has successfully completed the same multi-day NHTSA training used by seasoned police officers and intimately understands the scoring, mistakes, and biases. Brian’s deep understanding of these tests allows him to evaluate the facts of each case and identify any potential weaknesses therein. The Standard Field Sobriety Tests include:
Walk and Turn (WAT Test)
A suspect walks nine (9) heel-to-toe steps on a real or imaginary line to demonstrate balance. The police officer will be looking for the suspect’s ability to follow the directions, listen accurately and perform the tests. The NHTSA has clues or mistakes that the officer will note in his or her report. Attorney Clark will go over how these tests are scored and the typical errors police make, which may be shown on video or through and/or a written police report.
One-Leg Stand Test (OLS Test)
This test requires the suspect to raise either foot six (6) inches off the ground with hands at sides and begin counting out loud. The test is evaluating balance and the ability to absorb and follow through on verbal instructions. This test also has a scoring system that is not shown or verbalized to the defendant. Along with the WAT Test, this test will be demonstrated by the officer to some extent and may be recorded on the officer’s dashboard camera video or other video. Body camera videos are available in many jurisdictions but currently are not used routinely in the Ocean City area of Maryland.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN Test)
In this test, the officer’s pen or finger moves slowly side to side a certain number of times to test for the presence of alcohol. The officer is looking for jerking eye movements at certain phases of the test which will indicate a presence of alcohol in the driver’s blood system. Maryland case law has established limits on this test and who can reveal the results of it in court. Some judges will also look to see how the person absorbed the directions and followed them to assess a total picture of the alleged impairment, if any. This test also has a scoring system, or list of clues (indicators of impairment) established by NHTSA that will be discussed with you.
Proper Instructions for DUI/ DWI Field Tests
For the tests to be standardized, the instructions must be given the same way to every suspect. If the instructions are deficient, the performance or understanding of the tests may become an issue to address in court.
Walk and Turn Standardized Verbal Instructions
- “Place your left foot on the line.” (real or imaginary) Demonstrate to the suspect.
- “Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with the heel of the right foot against the toe of the left foot.” Demonstrate.
- “Place your arms down at your sides.” Demonstrate.
- “Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. Do not start to walk until told to do so.”
- “Do you understand the instructions so far?” Make sure suspect indicates an understanding.
- “When I tell you to start, take nine heel to toe steps, turn and take nine heel to toe steps back.” Demonstrate 3 heel to toe steps.
- “When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot like this.” Demonstrate this action.
- “While you are walking, keep your arms at your side, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud.”
- “Once you start walking, don’t stop until you have completed the test.”
- “Do you understand the instructions?” Confirm that the suspect understands.
- “Now, you can begin and count your first step from the heel to toe position.”
One-Leg Stand Test Standardized Verbal Instructions
- “Please stand with your feet together and your arms down at your side, like this.” Demonstrate.
- “Do not start to perform this test until I tell you to do so.”
- “Do you understand the instructions so far?” Make sure the suspect indicates understanding.
- “When I tell you to start, raise one leg, either leg, with the foot approximately six (6) inches off the ground keeping your raised foot parallel to the ground.” Demonstrate the one leg stance to suspect.
- “You must keep both legs straight, arms at your side.”
- “While holding that position, count out loud in the following manner: ‘one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three and so forth until told to stop.” Officer should not look at his own foot when conducting demonstration for officer safety.
- “Keep your arms at your sides at all times and keep watching the raised foot.”
- “Do you understand?” Make sure they indicate understanding.
- “Go ahead and perform the test.” If the suspect puts his foot down, give instructions to pick the foot up again and continue counting from the point at which the foot touched the ground. If the suspect counts very slowly, terminate the test after 30 seconds. Officer should always time the 30 seconds. Test should be discontinued after 30 seconds.
Once these tests have been completed, the officer will make a judgment based on all of the circumstances observed thus far to determine whether the officer has PROBABLE CAUSE to arrest you or whether you should be allowed to leave (with no arrest). Attorney Clark can and will assert appropriate motions during the court process to suppress the stop, the arrest, the SSFTs and the breath result based on any relevant legal or factual issues. The officer, based on the jurisdiction, may also ask you to submit to a Preliminary Roadside Breath Test (“PBT”) to confirm the officer’s suspicions of the driver’s intoxication. This test result is not admissible in court and there is no MVA penalty for refusing the test. Certain forms have to be filled out if you take the test. If the officer believes drugs, or a combination of alcohol and legal/illegal drugs is causing your impairment, then he may give you a Vertical Gaze Nystagmus Test (VGN) and do different balance tests.
Additional Requested Tests in Ocean City
Police officers in and around Ocean City typically will ask you to complete a counting test and an alphabet test to further determine if you are impaired. These tests are not standardized by NHTSA and have no test scoring system. The weight given to these tests varies by judge and jurisdiction. Attorney Brian H. Clark will go over all the details of these tests and the results.
If you are arrested for DUI/DWI, you will typically have an opportunity to take or decline a breath test at the police station and will be required to review additional paperwork concerning these rights.
Don’t Hesitate To Take Action
A drunk driving arrest can have serious consequences on your future, including potential license suspension, revocation, fines, insurance eligibility, jail time, job termination, immigration consequences, and security clearance eligibility.
Contact Attorney Brian H. Clark for assistance immediately as there are time limitations on certain MVA requests and court issues. Brian knows the law, the systems, the people, and the way to seek the best possible outcome for your case.