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What Happens During a Field Sobriety Test?

When you are stopped by the police for suspected driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the officer typically administers a number of field sobriety tests to determine whether you are drunk. These tests are used to determine probable cause to arrest and request chemical testing — breath, blood or urine testing. Although you can refuse chemical testing, doing so is legally punishable by suspension of your driver’s license for 12 months.

Besides asking you to submit to chemical testing, the officer will probably request that you perform a number of different tasks to check out your coordination and comprehension:

  1. Walking and turning. This task involves taking nine steps forward, turning, and then taking another nine steps back to where you started.
  2. Horizontal gaze (nystagmus). The police officer has you follow an object such as a pencil with your eyes. He or she moves the object in several directions while observing the movement of your eyes for equal tracking and smooth pursuit of the object.
  3. One leg stand. In this task, the officer asks you to raise one foot a few inches above the ground. You must hold it in that position for the amount of time he or she specifies while also keeping your arms along the side of your body.

There are many reasons why you might fail to complete any or all of these tasks. For example, anything from a minor knee injury to a severe neuromuscular disorder could result in failure of the one-leg stand test. A skilled attorney can call field sobriety test results into question and get your charges reduced or dismissed.

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