Understanding the Role of Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland DUI Arrests

While breath and blood alcohol content (BAC) tests play a vital role in arrests for those accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), there is another important step in police procedure that can affect a defendant’s charges and his or her defense in court: field sobriety tests. These tests are designed to gauge a subject’s mental and physical abilities and if they are able to multitask, something that is innately more difficult while intoxicated. They can also provide probable cause for a police officer to arrest the suspect and search his or her car. However, these tests are not always accurate.

Due to the differences in each test subject’s physical abilities, field sobriety tests do not always result in the same conclusions. On one hand, those with medical conditions or disabilities may not be able to complete some of the tests and may seem as if they are intoxicated. On the other, intoxicated individuals may be able to pass such tests due to their natural physical ability.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sanctioned only three field sobriety tests as having any measure of reliability in helping an officer determine whether a driver is or is not operating his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol. These tests, known as “standardized field sobriety tests” are:

  • Walk-and-turn – Where the suspect must walk a certain number of steps in a line heel-to-toe and turn.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test – The suspect follows a moving object, such as a pen, with his or her eyes in order for the officer to gauge eye movement reaction.
  • One-leg-stand – Suspect balances while standing on one leg.

Other non standardized tests used by police officers when conducting Maryland field sobriety tests can include counting backward, reciting the alphabet, and other coordination tests. Even without intoxication, many can fail these tests due to being nervous, anxious, or scared, or because of a disability. As such, many field sobriety tests are taken in conjunction with breath alcohol tests, but not always.

Field sobriety tests are controversial due to their subjective nature and the chance that they could result in an innocent driver being charged with or convicted of a DUI. Having an attorney who understands the field sobriety testing procedures and can challenge the prosecution’s case if field sobriety tests were administered incorrectly can be crucial to your case. Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Alpert is one of only a few attorneys in Maryland who is a NHTSA certified field sobriety testing instructor. He knows the proper way to conduct field sobriety tests and can use that knowledge to aggressively challenge any evidence obtained by police through improperly conducted field sobriety testing procedures.

If you or someone you know has been charged with drunk driving, the skilled drunk driving attorneys in Maryland at Alpert Schreyer can fight for your fair representation in court against harsh penalties. Contact us today at (866) 444-6363.

About Andrew Alpert

+Andrew is one of the leading DUI and criminal defense attorneys in both the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. He blogs about Maryland DUI law, has numerous videos on the subject and has been asked to appear on national television to offer his legal opinion on high-profile criminal cases.