DUI California Field Sobriety Tests

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The DUI “clues” that Santa Rosa police officers and police officers in California are looking for.

The Super Bowl is now over and, once again, the New York Giants beat the mighty New England Patriots. Many people, including myself, an attorney with Beck Law P.C. in Santa Rosa, attended a Super Bowl party with an expansive spread of chips, salsas, hot-dogs, burgers, tri-tip, and of course, alcohol. It’s well known that beer, cocktails, and as the clock turns to zero and the Superbowl ends, police everywhere are on alert for drunk drivers. The slightest mishap on the road results in a police officer pulling over a driver, and if there is any “clues” that the driver has consumed alcohol, the police will conduct a slew of Field Sobriety Tests. The question is why do police conduct “these” tests, and what “clues” are they looking for?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was confronted with high statistics regarding highway accidents in California and across the nation. In response they funded research to develop physical activities that could be carried out roadside, quickly, with no equipment, while still keeping the officer safe. The product of this research was the institution of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).

The three SFST tests are the one-leg stand (OLS), walk and turn (WAT), and horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN). The three tests are intended to show one’s ability to listen and follow instructions, and to measure “divided attention,” which is essential to operating a vehicle. Lastly, the three tests are utilized as a self-serving mechanism for police and District Attorneys in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Ukiah and throughout California to 1) determine sobriety, 2) develop probable cause, 3) show that the driver was under the influence at the time of the stop, and 4) gather evidence for the prosecution.

If you’re the unfortunate subject of a field sobriety test in California, you can expect to have to complete the one-leg stand (OLS). Research has found that if a subject fails this test by exhibiting two of the four “clues,” there is a 65 percent chance that the subject has a Blood-Alcohol Content (BAC) of .10 or above.* In conducting the test, a police officer will have the subject stand with both legs together, and select either their left or right leg to lift approximately 6 inches from the ground, and count by thousands. As a subject attempts to maintain balance, the police office is looking for four specific “clues” in gauging the subject’s performance; 1) use of arms for balance, 2) hopping, 3) swaying, and 4) whether the subject puts his or her foot down during the test. An officer can only test you for a total of 30 seconds. If the officer observes two of the four “clues,” they will request a breathalyzer test, as there is a 65 percent chance the subject has a BAC of .10 or above.*

Due to its perceived simplicity and that it measures one’s “divided attention,” police officers go-to-test is the Walk and Turn test (WAT). In administering this test, a police officer will ask the subject to position themselves so that their right foot is in front of their left foot (heal-to-toe). The subject’s arms must be at their side. The police office will then instruct the subject to walk on a line, nine steps in one direction, turn on one foot 180 degrees, and nine steps back in the other direction. The police officer is looking specifically for eight different “clues;” 1) balance, 2) starting too soon, before the police office says “start,” 3) delays in walking, 4) touching of the heel-to-toe, 5) stepping off the line, 6) raising of the arms for balance, 7) improper turns, and 8) improper amount of steps. If the police officer observes two “clues” throughout the test, the research shows that the subject has a 68 percent chance of having a BAC above .10.*

What is that!!?? (My exact response, even as a California DUI Attorney). Horizontal gaze nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eye as it moves from center towards the far right or left. According to research, the jerking becomes more and more obvious when a driver is impaired. Additionally, this is the most reliable test in determining the sobriety of a driver, as there is a 77 percent chance that the driver has a BAC of .10 or above.* You’ve probably seen this test administered in the movies, a police officer has a pencil or pen, places it a foot away from the driver’s forehead, and asks the driver to watch the pencil as he/she moves it from right to left. In administering the test, the police officer is looking for three “clues:” 1) can the eye smoothly follow the pencil, 2) is nystagmus present at the extreme? 3) Is the angel of onset 45 degrees or less? Basically, a police officer is trying to determine whether alcohol is playing a role in the involuntary jerking of the eye.

*Note the in California the BAC limit is .08 or above.

These three tests seem simple, yet after a long Super Bowl game where alcohol flows and a police officer observing your every move, they become more and more difficult. It’s best to ensure that you or your group always have a designated driver when drinking.Headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, Beck Law P.C. offers DUI legal services to clients in Santa Rosa, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Windsor, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, Kelseyville and throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County and Lake County.

Beck Law P.C. offers a no-cost, no-obligation initial DUI consultation and can provide the knowledge and experience necessary to help guide you through the DUI legal process.

Making an appointment to talk to us regarding the particulars of your DUI is an investment in exploring what options may or may not apply to your particular situation. Your visit to the Beck Law Offices is confidential, as is the information discussed. You can contact our office at 707-576-7175 or contact us online.

Headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, Beck Law P.C. offers DUI legal services to clients in Santa Rosa, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Windsor, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, Kelseyville and throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County and Lake County.


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