Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland
Understand Your Rights Regarding Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are conducted when a police officer suspects a driver of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Remember: You have the right to opt not to take any field sobriety tests.
If you are facing DUI charges or have been asked to perform a field sobriety test, call Alpert Schreyer Poe, LLC right away at (301) 321-7277.
The Three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created three standardized tests that a police officer may administer. There are other non-standard tests as well, but the following are the three are the most common tests an officer is likely to use during a DUI investigation at the scene.
You might be subject to:
- One Leg Stand: This test is more complicated than it sounds. In addition to testing a driver’s physical ability, it can also be used to test if the driver can do multiple things at once. The officer will choose a safe, dry, level area to conduct the test. If the area is not safe or the driver is elderly or overweight, this test should not be given. The officer will explain the test and may even demonstrate the test. The driver must lift one foot off the ground about six inches while keeping his or her arms at their side. Then the driver must count to 30 out loud before putting his or her foot back down. The police officer will be watching for three specific things: Do they need to use their arms to maintain balance? Do they need to put their foot back down? Is there excessive swaying? Failure in two of these three things is considered a failed test. Of course, an officer can technically make an arrest based on this test alone.
- Walk and Turn: This is also a divided attention test. The driver must take nine heel-to-toe steps, pivot, and then walk back. While walking, the driver will be asked to count the steps out loud. An officer will look for an incorrect number of steps, any balance issues with walking and turning, the extent to which your arms are being used for balance and if all the steps are said out loud correctly. If a couple of these criteria are missed, it will be considered a failed test. This is another subjective test based on the observations by a police officer. If they believe you are intoxicated before you take the test, it may be difficult to fulfill their expectations for a successful test.
- Horizontal Gaze or Nystagmus Test: The driver will be asked to look at an object such as a pen, and then follow the object as it is moved back and forth. The officer will be following the driver’s eye looking for how smooth the eye movement is. If the eye jerks, this is called Nystagmus. This is cause enough for an officer to make an arrest. These tests can be inaccurate. It takes a well-trained ophthalmologist to truly spot nystagmus. Also, eye movement can be caused by a number of things other than alcohol like multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and sedatives.
In addition to these field sobriety tests, police officers may use additional cognitive tests to determine whether a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Cognitive tests include:
- Counting tests: Though not proven to be effective, many police officers use counting tests. One example is rapidly flashing their fingers and asking the driver how many fingers he or she sees. Another common test is asking the driver to count backwards, starting from a certain number. As is the case with most field sobriety tests, police officers are looking for more than one indicator of impairment. They are looking to see if the driver can remember directions and to determine if the driver’s speech is slurred.
- Alphabet tests: One other popular test is demanding that the driver recite the alphabet or a portion of the alphabet. The police officer will mark down any error made by the driver, including pausing for a few seconds or saying a letter slowly.
The Problem with Field Sobriety Tests
One problem with a field sobriety test is that each individual has his or her own level of ability, both sober and intoxicated. Some of the field sobriety tests that police use are innately more challenging for some drivers than others. Ultimately, scientists have been able to show that field sobriety tests may not be entirely reliable as a means of assessing alcohol intake. That’s why police often use them in conjunction with a breath or blood alcohol test. It’s also why law enforcement officers have to be careful in basing drunk driving enforcement on these simplistic tests and outcomes.
Some legal resources show that studies by groups associated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found field sobriety tests on their own to be insufficient diagnostic tools for establishing a DUI, to the extent that some courts may find them inadmissible if not joined by other evidence. In the legal community, professional DUI defense lawyers are talking about their options for questioning the validity of any field sobriety test as it relates to an individual case. In general, many experts feel the trend will be toward more reliance on actual breath testing and more relevant field sobriety testing.
Why Is It Important for My Attorney to Be Certified to Own & Operate Breathalyzer Equipment?
A breath test that indicates that a driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 doesn’t mean a person is guilty of DUI. Breathalyzer tests can give inaccurate readings due to a number of medical conditions suffered by the person taking the test and there is plenty of room for human error as well. An incorrect calibration on a breathalyzer machine, inaccurate testing procedures by the police officer administering the test, and/or a pre-existing medical condition can all make the difference between someone being arrested for DUI or not.
An attorney with advanced knowledge of how breath testing equipment works knows what questions to ask regarding any breathalyzer evidence against you and can challenge inaccurate test results in a court of law. This challenge can cause the breathalyzer evidence to be excluded at trial, can lead to very little weight being placed on the breath test results, and acquittal.
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