Field Sobriety Testing
People who are suspected of any offense allegedly committed while they were driving or in actual physical control of motor vehicles while under the influence of alcoholic beverages are required under Florida’s implied consent law to submit to an approved chemical test or physical test of their blood or breath. State law, however, does not require alleged offenders to submit to field sobriety tests (also referred to as roadside sobriety tests) that are frequently administered before any breath or blood test.
Field sobriety tests are inherently flawed tests in which any minor error—however innocent—by the alleged offender can result in a police officer deeming that person as having failed the test and justifying the suspicion that the alleged offender was under the influence. While field sobriety tests are entirely subjective, prosecutors may use videotaped footage of an alleged offender performing them as evidence in driving under the influence (DUI) cases.Lawyer in Broward County, FL Discusses Field Sobriety Testing
Did you allegedly fail any kind of field sobriety test when you were arrested for DUI in South Florida? You will want to exercise your right to remain silent until you have contacted The Hoffman Firm.
Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Evan A. Hoffman represents clients accused of DUI violations in numerous communities throughout Broward County, including Lauderhill, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, and many others. You can have our lawyer review your case and answer all of your legal questions as soon as you call (954) 524-4474 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Fort Lauderdale Field Sobriety Testing Information Center
- Which kinds of tests do police usually ask people to perform?
- What issues can be used to challenge the validity of these tests?
- Where can I learn more about filed sobriety testing in Broward County?
Types of Field Sobriety Testing in Florida
While police officers in Florida may administer any one of a number of different field sobriety tests, only three were included in the training curriculum that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed for police officers in all 50 states. NHTSA’s three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) — Nystagmus refers to the involuntary jerking of the eye when a person is intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance. An officer will observe how an alleged offender’s eyes follow a small object moving slowly from side to side about a foot from that person’s face, and any failure to smoothly follow the object or distinct jerking movement can be construed as probable cause for a DUI arrest. Tests may be improperly administered if a police officer moves the object too quickly or too slowly, or holds the object too close to or too far from the alleged offender’s eyes.
- One-Leg Stand (OLS) — A police officer instructs an alleged offender to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands for 30 seconds. If an alleged offender struggles to maintain his or her balance or commits an error in counting, it will be interpreted as probable cause for a DUI arrest.
- Walk-and-Turn (WAT) — A police officer instructs an alleged offender to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in nine heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction. Again, any issues with the alleged offender’s balance or counting can be used as probable cause for a DUI arrest.
When properly trained police officers administer any of the above tests, the results may be used as the basis for probable cause for a DUI arrest. Officers may also administer any one of a number of other non-standardized field sobriety tests, including—but not limited to:
- ABC Test — An officer asks an alleged offender to recite the alphabet (possibly backwards) or a portion of the alphabet.
- Finger-to-Nose Test — An officer asks an alleged offender to close his or her eyes, tilt his or her head back, and touch his or her noses with their index finger.
- Numbers Backward Test — An officer asks an alleged offender to count backwards from a certain number.
- Romberg Balance Test — An officer asks an alleged offender to estimate when 30 seconds have passed while standing with his or her feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed.
Broward County Challenges to Field Sobriety Testing
Many people who agree to perform field sobriety tests often think that they performed fine and are surprised when police officers note various errors that constitute failure of such tests. Numerous NHTSA studies over the years have shown that field sobriety tests do not have flawless accuracy rates, and many external factors can often cause or contribute to an alleged offender supposedly failing these types of tests.
A few of the most common issues with field sobriety tests include, but are not limited to:
- Improper instructions;
- Lack of a baseline;
- Medical conditions;
- Uneven testing surfaces; or
- Weather conditions.
Florida Resources for Field Sobriety Testing
Validation of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery at BACs Below 0.10 Percent — View the full text of a report conducted for NHTSA to evaluate the accuracy of the SFST Battery to assist officers in making arrest decisions and to discriminate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below 0.10 percent. The report was published in August 1998, at a time when many states were reducing statutory drunk driving limits to 0.08. The report found that officers’ estimates of whether a motorist’s BAC was above or below 0.08 or 0.04 percent were extremely accurate, with estimates at the 0.08 level being accurate in 91 percent of cases, and estimates of whether a motorist’s BAC was above 0.04 but under 0.08 being accurate in 94 percent of the decisions to arrest and in 80 percent of the relevant cases overall.
State v. Taylor, 648 So. 2d 701 (1995) No. 82631 — James E. Taylor was charged with DUI in Florida and, prior to trial, moved to suppress his refusal to take the field sobriety tests, arguing that he was not told by police that he was required to take the tests or that his refusal could be used against him. The county court granted the motion to suppress, the circuit court reversed, and the district court quashed the circuit court order before the Supreme Court of Florida quashed the decision of the district court. While the majority held that “Taylor's refusal to take the field sobriety tests was not elicited in violation of his statutory or constitutional rights and its use at trial does not offend constitutional principles” and “that the refusal is probative of the issue of consciousness of guilt,” Justice Gerald Kogan wrote in dissent that article I, section 9 of the Florida Constitution states that residents of Florida cannot be compelled to be witnesses against themselves in any criminal matter and, “To permit evidence of a refusal to take sobriety tests is little better than informing the finder of fact that the defendant refused to deny guilt.”
If you allegedly failed field sobriety tests when you were arrested for DUI in Broward County, it will be in your best interest to immediately retain legal counsel. The Hoffman Firm defends individuals in Hallandale Beach, Margate, Plantation, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, and many surrounding areas of South Florida.
Evan A. Hoffman is an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who understands the types of errors that can lead to criminal charges being reduced or dismissed because of his time as an Assistant State Attorney for the Broward County State Attorney’s Office. He can provide a complete evaluation of your case when you call (954) 524-4474 or fill out an online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.