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Field Sobriety Tests: What to Expect, and Why You Should Refuse Them.

Joseph Angelillo, Esq. Nov. 6, 2020

Maybe it was a lapse of judgment, or a moment of resounding hubris, but now you find yourself staring at the road ahead with flashing red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror.

If an officer suspects that you’re driving under the influence of alcohol they will immediately begin their investigation from the very first interaction.

The officer will begin to acquire context clues based upon your person to determine whether or not they’ll ask you to participate in Field Sobriety Tests.

These clues are predominantly subjective based upon the officers training, how many prior DUI‘s they’ve investigated, and their own personal experiences with witnessing individuals under the influence of alcohol, or drugs for that matter.

In most instances these include:

  • Slurred Speech

  • Bloodshot Eyes

  • Odor of Alcohol Emanating from Breath

  • Open Containers of Alcohol

  • Fumbling for License/Not Producing One When Asked

  • Unable to Articulate where you are, where you’re going, or where you’re coming from

Most jurisdictions in Illinois have body camera’s attached to the officers conducting these initial observations, and a good attorney would start here in scrutinizing the officer’s investigation. If the officer does not have reasonable suspicion based upon his observations to ask you out of the vehicle, then the entire case should be thrown out.

Here’s The Thing, If An Officer Asks You To Participate In Field Sobriety Tests, They’re Already Planning To Arrest You.

I have yet to hear a story of how an individual has beaten a series of field sobriety tests, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from individuals who haven’t.

Much like the initial observational period, these tests are specifically designed to allow the officer to collect as much evidence as they can to subsequently testify to, and use against you, in a future criminal proceeding.

There are three tests that are normally used by police officers when conducting Field Sobriety Tests, and they are:

(1) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The Officer will hold a pen, or their finger, a few inches away from your nose and bring it across their body multiple times in order to gage whether your eye shows signs of nystagmus, which is a fancy way of saying that they see the eyes shake at the very edge of your peripheral.

A failure of this test merely shows consumption of alcohol, and I’ve yet to see an official report, or court testimony, state that nystagmus wasn’t present at the time of conducting the test.

(2) Walk and Turn Test

Abandon all hope ye with poor coordination.

This test is laden with elements that you won’t even know you’ve failed until afterwards. It begins with the officer having you stand, one foot in front of the other, with your arms at your sides and holding this position while the officer explains the rest of the test. If they say to put your right foot in front of your left, and you put your left foot in front of your right, that’s a clue. Unable to keep your balance? That’s also a clue. Raising your arms from your sides or beginning the test before instructed? All clues. You’ve now failed the test before even taking your first step.

You’re asked to imagine a line, and are asked to take ten steps heel to toe, turn around by taking tiny steps, and walk ten paces heel to toe in the opposite direction. The officer will then look for whether your feet are more than six inches apart, or whether you step off the line.

(a concept I’ve yet to obtain a suitable answer for when cross examining an officer as to how they know you stepped off of your own imaginary line).

Failure of this test shows impairment, and only helps the State in further cementing their case against you.

(3) One Legged Stand

Much like the Walk and Turn test, this is the bane of the existence for those who aren’t coordinated in the first place. You will be asked to keep your hands at your sides and raise one foot, whichever you prefer, and count to thirty all while staring at your foot.

Hoping on one foot, raising your arms from your sides, or putting your foot down is enough to warrant a failure for this test.

Much like the Walk and Turn Test, a failure here also shows impairment.

You Do Not Have To Agree To Participate In Field Sobriety Tests, And Have Every Right To Refuse To Participate In Them.

As I mentioned before, if an officer asks you to participate in Field Sobriety Tests, chances are they are already planning to arrest you. Even if you do decide to take the tests, and subsequently fail them, a good attorney would still be able to attack the State’s case against you based upon how the tests were conducted or whether or not you actually failed the tests in question.

Refusing to participate in Field Sobriety Tests guts the State’s case before it’s even able to begin. Instead of having video footage, or the officers testimony, of you failing their arbitrary tests, all they’ll have to go on is the initial confrontation. It’s important to remember to calmly and politely refuse to participate in these tests, don’t act smug or erratic, and don’t allow the officer to talk you into taking them. You’re more likely to incriminate yourself by participating in the tests then completely exonerating yourself and the officers allowing you to leave the scene.

If you’ve been charged with DUI in the State of Illinois, contact my office immediately in order to schedule your free consultation. It’s imperative that we get to work immediately in these cases in order to collect all of the necessary evidence to begin building your case to defend yourself against State prosecution.