Field Sobriety Tests in Montgomery County

If you are pulled over and suspected of driving while under the influence in Maryland you will likely be asked to take number of field sobriety tests. Below is information on each of these tests, what each test is looking for, and the weight that these tests carry in court. To learn more about field sobriety tests or discuss your case call and schedule a consultation with a Montgomery County DUI lawyer today.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests in Montgomery County

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The first field sobriety test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In that test, an officer will have you stand facing the officer and look at some kind of stimulus. It can be his finger, a flash light, a pen, or something else. However, the officer is going to move that stimulus back and forth across your field of view. You’re supposed to track the pen with your eyes and your eyes only, not moving your head. The officer is looking for something called nystagmus. It’s an involuntary jerking or twitching of the eyes as they try to track. That’s not a voluntarily controllable function. You don’t have voluntary physiological control over whether you’re going to move your eye smoothly or you’re going to move your eyes in a jerky fashion.

The theory behind that is that when people are impaired then they can track smoothly. Their eyes just naturally have that jerky nystagmus type movement. There have been some recent cases in Maryland that have really limited value of horizontal gaze nystagmus from the state attorney’s point of view. Specifically in order to properly admit horizontal gaze nystagmus, they have to qualify their officer as an expert and then additionally the presence of nystagmus in Maryland can only go to show presence of alcohol and not actual impairment.

So the value of it is pretty much exactly the same as the officer testifying that they smelled an odor of alcohol, which has made the horizontal gaze nystagmus test less significant in Maryland over the past few years.

Walk and Turn Test

The second test that the officer’s going to ask you to perform is the walk and turn test. On the walk and turn test, you are first instructed to stand in an instructional position with your right foot in front of your left and your arms held at your side. The officer will then explain the test to you and if you failed to stand in the instructional position or try to start the test before the officer tells you to, those are going to be counted as clues against you.

During the performance of the test, you’re supposed to walk nine heel to toe steps where you touch heel to toe, step along an imaginary line then turn around by planting your foot and taking a series of small steps around that planted foot and then doing nine heel to toe steps and back. The test isn’t really seeing whether you can walk a line, turn around and walk back like you’re not drunk. The test is testing whether you can follow very, very minor clues and directions that the officer gives you and the test is intentionally designed for people to fail, even people who had nothing to drink have the hard time doing the walk and turn test correctly the first time that they attempt it.

One Leg Stand Test

The third and final test is one leg stand test. On that test, the officer is going to tell you to stand with one foot of your choice, six inches off the ground, keep your arms at your sides and count out loud “1 one thousand, 2 one thousand,” until he tells you to stop. The officer’s checking two things there. He’s checking your ability to balance while standing on one foot and he’s checking your ability to keep that count. If your 1 one thousand count is significantly different from the time passes so if you estimate 30 and it’s only been 15 seconds, the officer will make note of that and the same if count very slowly. The officer will make note if it took you 30 seconds to get to the count of 15.

So the important thing to know about any of this field sobriety test is that they’re totally voluntary. There’s no obligation to do them and there’s no legal penalty for refusing to do them and generally people in Maryland should refuse to do field sobriety tests when asked to by an officer.

Weight of Field Sobriety Tests At a DUI Trial?

That’s going to depend on some of the other factors or defenses of the DUI case. Specifically whether or not an individual chose to blow into a breathalyzer machine at the police station. If an individual does not give a breath sample at the police station, the field sobriety tests are going to be extremely significant to the prosecution’s case. They’re going to be the prosecution’s best way of trying to show that the accused driver was impaired. However, if an individual chooses to blow into a breathalyzer at the police station and that resulted as a 0.08 or higher, the field sobriety test become less significant to the prosecution’s case.

They’re basically using the field sobriety test to justify why the officer asked an individual to do a breath test. So instead of being the only thing that can prove somebody’s impairment, they become a clue that the officer then used to get the test which is ultimately going to be used to prove your impairment.

Do LEOs in Montgomery County Use Field Sobriety Tests in Any Unique Way?

No, field sobriety tests are standardized and they’re standardized by NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That means that field sobriety tests have to be conducted exactly the same whenever they’re being conducted in a NHTSA certified manner. So whether the test is done in Montgomery County or in Howard County or in Alaska or in Florida, the field sobriety tests should always be done exactly the same and they should be graded exactly the same to. There’s actually a big bolded page in the NHTSA manual saying that any deviation from the standardized way of administering or grading these tests renders them invalid.