Field Sobriety Tests  - Do I have to take them?

​By Michael Mills 

The simple answer to this question is no, you do not have to submit to a field sobriety test. 

In Ohio, you are well within your rights to refuse a field sobriety test, you may also refuse a Portable Breathalyzer Test (PBT). If you are pulled over, the officer conducting the traffic stop will ask you some questions. 

You are only required to comply with the request for license, insurance, and registration.  Any questions asked beyond that are for the benefit of the officer, and may be used to supplement his reasonable suspicion that you have been driving under the influence.  Questions such as where you were and where you are going need not be answered.  When in that situation, you are not compelled to give evidence against yourself. You can choose to ask the officer politely, “Am I under arrest?”  If the officer responds that you are not under arrest, then you are not compelled to answer the questions.   

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed standardized field sobriety tests to help law enforcement officers decide whether to arrest people for drunk driving.  Officers now administer these tests in every DUI / OVI case.  The results of the tests may be introduced at trial as evidence that the defendant was driving under the influence or over the limit.

The three standardized tests are:

(1) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

(2) Walk and Turn

(3) One Leg Stand

Also there are "non-standardized tests" such as counting backward, reciting part of the alphabet, and touching your nose. 

Those tests have no standardized procedure and no studies to support their correlation with being under the influence or over the limit.

When officers make mistakes in administering field sobriety tests, the results of the tests may be excluded from trial and may also be excluded from the judge's determination of whether the arrest was justified.  An officer’s mistakes on field sobriety tests are also used at trial to counter the officer’s testimony that the tests prove a client was driving under the influence.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Watch what police are looking for "involuntary jerking".

Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball as the eyeball moves to the side, and studies conducted for NHTSA conclude that the ingestion of alcohol increases the presence of nystagmus. To test for horizontal gaze nystagmus, an officer has you follow a pen or other stimulus with your eyes. The officer is not simply checking to see if you follow the pen but is instead checking to see if there is nystagmus present. The officer checks for nystagmus in three different ways and scores a "clue" each time nystagmus is observed. The officer checks both eyes individually, so there are a total of six possible "clues". If the officer observes four or more "clues", there is a probability that your Blood Alcohol Content is .08 or higher.

Walk And Turn (WAT) Watch someone try the Walk and Turn Test

To administer the WAT test, an officer has you stand on a line, walk nine steps (heel-to-toe) down the line, turn around, and walk nine steps back. The officer scores "clues" if you do things such as: lose your balance during the instructions; start too early; fail to touch heel-to-toe; stop walking; step off the line; raise your arms for balance; turn improperly; or take an incorrect number of steps. If the officer observes two or more "clues", there is a probability that your Blood Alcohol Content is .08 or higher.

One Leg Stand (OLS) Watch someone trying to  stand on one leg and count.

To administer the OLS test, an officer has you raise one leg so your foot is about 6" off the ground and stand on the other leg with your arms at your sides while you count aloud for 30 seconds. The officer scores "clues" if you do things such as: sway; use your arms for balance; hop; or put your foot down. If the officer observes two or more clues, there is a probability that your Blood Alcohol Content is .08 or higher.




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