Baltimore DUI Charges: Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are standardized tests that officers conduct on the side of the road to determine whether or not an individual may be impaired by alcohol. Officers use these tests to decide whether or not to arrest somebody for suspicion of DUI or DWI. If you have been charged with a DUI in Baltimore, a Baltimore DUI attorney can help mitigate damages by tailoring a defense to your unique case.

Field sobriety tests absolutely must be administered in the proper way. In the standardized field sobriety test manual, it states that if the tests are not administered and graded in the standardized manner, then they are totally invalid. That’s why it’s extremely important that your attorney knows what to look for in how an officer conducted your field sobriety test.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

One of the Baltimore DUI field sobriety tests is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the officer will tell you to hold your head still and track a stimulus—usually a pen, a flashlight or the officer’s finger—moving only your eyes and not your head. What they’re looking for is a jerky motion of the eyes as you track and then a wobbling of the eyes at either 45 degrees or maximum deviation. It’s an entirely involuntary physiological response, meaning you can’t control it, you don’t  know it is going on and you can’t feel it at all.

The Walk-and-Turn Test

Another prominent field sobriety test is the walk-and-turn test. In the walk-and-turn test, the officer is going to ask you to stand in an instructional position and maintain that position while the officer explains the test to you. This is an element that almost everyone fails during the administration of the test. A Baltimore police officer wants you to stand with your right foot in front of your left foot and your arms stiff at your sides while the test is being explained to you. However, most people are going to stand in a parade rest position, with their feet shoulder-width apart, and the officer is going to count that as not standing in the correct instructional position.

Then, the officer is going to tell you to take nine heel-to-toe steps out, plant your lead foot, take a series of small steps around that planted foot and take a series of nine heel-to-toe steps back. The officer is going to tell you to stay on an imaginary line and not to raise your arms from your sides while you’re walking. You will also be required to count your steps out loud.

There are many points during the walk-and-turn test when a completely sober individual would show red flags because the test isn’t really checking to see if an individual can walk a straight line, turn around and walk back. Instead, the test is looking for very minor deviations from a fairly complicated set of instructions, which are given on the side of the road when an individual is only halfway paying attention because he or she is nervous about possibly being charged with a DUI in Baltimore. For that reason, the walk-and-turn test is probably the least fair of the field sobriety tests.

The One-Leg Stand Test

The one-leg stand test is exactly what it sounds like; it involves standing on one leg, raising the other foot about six inches off the ground, pointing your toes and trying to maintain that position without swaying or balancing with your arms for thirty seconds.

Weight of Field Sobriety Tests at Trial in Baltimore

The weight of the field sobriety tests is going to depend on whether or not an individual submitted to a breath test. If you submitted to a breath test, then the purpose of the evidence from the field sobriety test is to show that the officer had probable cause to request the breath test—in other words, to show that the officer had a reason to suspect you might be drunk. If a person does not submit to a breath test, however, then the state will try to use the field sobriety tests to prove impairment, which is much more difficult. Overall, cases where an individual refuses to submit to a breath test are the ones where the field sobriety tests really take on a fairly large legal significance.

You can refuse to perform field sobriety tests in Baltimore, and furthermore, you should refuse. There’s no legal penalty for refusing; the only thing that will happen is that the officer will immediately arrest you for suspicion of DUI, which is what was going to happen after the field sobriety test anyway.