Field Sobriety Tests: What You Need to Know

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are tools law enforcement officials use to assess a driver's potential impairment due to alcohol or drugs during traffic stops. These standardized tests, often conducted on the roadside, aim to gauge an individual's physical and cognitive abilities to determine whether probable cause exists for an OWI arrest. Understanding the significance of FSTs in OWI cases is crucial, as the results can significantly impact the legal proceedings that follow.

Securing legal representation is paramount, irrespective of test outcomes. Skilled attorneys are pivotal in developing a robust defense strategy. They leverage their insights into the law to scrutinize various aspects surrounding the FSTs, including the procedures followed during the test administration, potential inaccuracies or biases, and any legal violations that may have occurred during the process.

At Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger, we offer personalized legal counsel to individuals facing charges in Iowa City. Contact us at (319) 499-5524.

Types of FSTs Used During OWI Stops

Law enforcement officials commonly use standardized field sobriety tests to determine a driver’s potential intoxication level during a traffic stop.

The FSTs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes as valid measures include the following:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: The HGN test assesses involuntary eye movements as the eyes track a stimulus, like a pen or flashlight, moved horizontally. The officer looks for distinct eye jerking at certain angles, potentially indicating alcohol or drug impairment.
  • Walk-and-Turn Test: This test involves walking heel-to-toe along a straight line, then turning and repeating in the opposite direction. Officers evaluate balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions, looking for indicators of impairment.
  • One-Leg Stand Test: Individuals must stand on one foot while raising the other approximately six inches above the ground. Maintaining balance for a specified duration demonstrates physical control and cognitive functioning.

Other Less Common, Non-Standardized FSTs

Aside from the NHTSA-standardized tests, law enforcement may employ additional FSTs, such as the Romberg balance test or finger-to-nose test. However, these lack standardized procedures and may vary across jurisdictions.

The Purpose and Accuracy of FSTs

Each FST is designed with a specific purpose in mind, aiming to gauge various aspects of an individual's physical and cognitive abilities under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

While FSTs are standardized, various factors can influence their accuracy, including the individual's physical condition, environmental conditions, and officer subjectivity in interpretation.

Impact on OWI Cases

FSTs can influence legal proceedings and potentially form the basis for probable cause leading to an arrest. Positive FST results provide law enforcement with probable cause to make an arrest for a suspected OWI. When combined with other observable behavior or evidence, these results contribute to the establishment of probable cause.

Driver’s Right to Refuse FSTs

Drivers are not legally obliged to participate in FSTs during a traffic stop. They have the right to refuse these tests without facing immediate legal penalties (such as fines or license suspension) for refusal.

However, officers may use other evidence—such as erratic driving, the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, or a failed breathalyzer test—to establish probable cause for an arrest, even if the driver refuses to undergo FSTs.

Seeking Legal Counsel in an OWI Case

Facing OWI charges demands astute legal representation to fight accusations effectively. Whether an individual has taken the FSTs or declined participation, seeking legal counsel is imperative to challenge test outcomes and construct a robust defense.

Legal professionals can dissect the circumstances surrounding the FSTs, presenting factors that might have suggested impairment despite the individual's sobriety. This approach highlights potential inaccuracies or external influences affecting test performance and challenges probable cause for the arrest.

For those looking for legal representation in Iowa City, schedule a consultation with Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger by calling (319) 499-5524.

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