Field Sobriety Test

Field Sobriety Test — Denver Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer

If a police officer suspects a Colorado motorist of DUI or DWAI, that motorist may be asked to take voluntary "field sobriety tests."

These "tests" are how police officers check a motorist's impairment, presumably used in establishing probable cause to support an arrest. These DUI "roadside tests" are subjective, which means they are administered solely by the investigating police officer(s) and not upon any set of "hard and fast" rules. The important thing to note is that you may politely refuse to take any roadside test. They are entirely voluntary and the law does not require you to take them. Just like the portable breath test at the scene of the traffic stop, you will not be penalized at all if you decline to take the roadside tests. You really have little to gain and plenty to lose in taking the tests. You will generally be helping the officer obtain probable cause to arrest you and give the government evidence against you, if you take these roadside tests.

Horizontal and Vertical Gaze Nystagmus

In this Colorado roadside test, the police officer will position a pen, pen light, or his or her finger in front of the motorist's face and move the object from side to side and up and down, watching the subject's eyes. The officer is watching for involuntary jerking or trembling of the eyeball, which in many circumstances is a sign of impairment.

Walk and Turn

With this test, the officer instructs the motorist to take nine "heel-to-toe" steps along a real or imaginary line, turn in a certain specifically instructed manner, and then take nine "heel-to-toe" steps back to the starting position. While performing this difficult-to-remember task, the motorist is expected to keep his or her arms at his or her sides without raising them. The officer will monitor the motorist's ability to follow his or her instructions, balance, whether or not the "line" was followed, number of steps taken, manner of steps taken (i.e., whether or not the motorist touched "heel-to-toe" on each step), arm position, and head position, during this test.

One Leg Stand

Generally, the officer instructs the motorist to raise one leg six inches off the ground while watching the foot, keeping the bottom of his or her heel parallel to the ground, keeping the arms at his or her sides, and while counting out loud until the officer instructs the motorist to stop. The officer will watch for ability to follow instructions, general lack of balance (such as swaying, hopping, putting the foot down prior to being told to do so, and raising the arms), and ability to accurately measure the passage of time.

Finger to Nose

The officer will instruct the driver to stand with his or her feet together and arms at his or her sides, to close his or her eyes, and to tilt the head back. The motorist will then further be instructed to bend his or her arm at the elbow and to touch each index finger to the tip of the nose three times. Again, the officer will watch for ability to follow instructions, general lack of balance (such as swaying, unsteadiness and opening the eyes) and ability to meet the tip of the index finger to the tip of the nose.

Romberg Balance Test

With head tilted back, feet together and eyes closed, the motorist will be instructed to estimate the passage of approximately 30 seconds. With this test, the officer is evaluating the suspect's "internal clock," which, according to the officer, will be slow in the case of alcohol or depressants, or fast in the case of stimulants. The officer will also check for ability to follow instructions and signs of general lack of balance (such as swaying, unsteadiness, opening the eyes, separating the feet and raising the arms).

From reciting portions of the alphabet backward or forward to finger counting and counting backward, there are many field sobriety tests that police officers employ. We advise that our clients politely decline taking such tests. For more information about Denver, Colorado, DUI law, contact a lawyer at the O'Malley Law Office, P.C.

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