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What Are Field Sobriety Tests (hereinafter “FSTs”)?

  • By: Laurence Thien
  • Published: November 20, 2020

FSTs are employed by law enforcement officers primarily to obtain additional evidence of impairment should there ultimately be a trial or contested hearing in the case. Common FSTs include the One Leg Stand; the Walk and Turn Test; and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Alcohol intoxication brings about a significant slowdown of mental and physical processing in the intoxicated person—a depressant, alcohol has the effect of impairing motor function, impeding hand-eye coordination, and limiting the balance of the individual. As a result, the FSTs often are an impossible task for even the slightly “buzzed” driver. 

For the One Leg Stand, the suspected DUI driver is required to stand on one leg and count to 30. The more often the individual sways, hops, puts the other foot down on the ground, or uses their arms to maintain their balance, will all be used as indicia of impairment. 

For the Walk and Turn Test, the suspected DUI driver is required to walk a straight and narrow line—taking nine or ten heel to toe steps—any time the heel doesn’t touch the toe, the walker steps off the line, or uses their arms to maintain their balance, the officer will use this as a clue indicative of impairment and will place these missteps in the report of arrest to buttress the conclusion that the driver was too impaired to operate the vehicle safely. 

Finally, for the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the officer will use a pen or other similar object, and move this object in front of the suspected drunk driver’s eyes, determining the degree to which the suspected drunk driver is able to maintain focus and track the pen’s movements. When an individual has consumed some quantity of alcohol, the eves will not track pen’s movement as well—it will begin to drag, you might say. This is more pronounced the higher that an individual’s BAC becomes. Of all the FSTs, this is probably the most accurate and the most damaging in terms of import. 

Our advice at Yampolsky & Margolis Criminal Defense Las Vegas is to forego FSTs. With a little liquid courage we are all convinced that we are “fine” and that when given the golden opportunity to demonstrate our sobriety in FSTs, many of us are entirely too confident in our ability to “nail it”. What’s more, even if you as a suspected drunk driver do perform admirably on the FSTs, your judge and jury as to that performance is an officer that has probably spent the better part of an hour on your DUI arrest. I hate to put it this bluntly, but the tie is not going to be granted to the driver in close FST evaluations, if you catch my drift. 

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