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Indianapolis Criminal Attorney
John "Jack" Razumich
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Andrew Redd
Criminal Attorney


Understanding the Criminal Justice System

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Pulled Over for Driving Under the Influence? Here’s What to Expect from Field Sobriety Tests

If you’ve been pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving, be prepared to take some tests. At some point you may be asked to provide breath, blood, or urine samples, but before that happens you will likely face the challenge of what are known as “field sobriety tests.” You’ve probably seen such tests portrayed in movies of TV shows, with the driver told to touch their nose, recite the alphabet or walk in a straight line.

Three Types of Tests

Police officers in Indiana generally use three types of field sobriety tests, and they may decide to use one or all three, depending on the circumstances and the preferences of the officer. All three tests have been approved by The National Highway Traffic Safety for use in determining whether a driver is operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWVI). However, these field tests are notoriously unreliable indicators of an individual’s level of impairment. In fact, many people can’t pass these tests when they’re sober.

These tests are also subjective, meaning they depend on an individual officer’s interpretation rather than hard data like the kind you can get from a blood or breath test. This also means that a skilled criminal defense attorney can attack the credibility and accuracy of the officer’s evaluation of the driver as part of a comprehensive defense strategy.

The three field sobriety tests are:

  • One Leg Stand Test. As the name indicates, the one leg stand test requires the driver to stand and balance on one leg. The individual must stand for approximately 30 seconds while keeping the non-balancing leg at least six inches off the ground and the hands close to the body.
  • Walk and Turn Test. In a walk and turn test, the officer asks the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, turn, then walk back. Many law enforcement officials use the lines painted on the road itself as the line the driver must walk. The walk and turn test is supposed to gauge an individual’s coordination, balance, and ability to follow directions.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is a complicated name for a very simple procedure. In this type of field sobriety test, the police officer shines a light – usually a penlight – into the individual’s eyes to see if the eye jerks to the side in response to the stimulus of the light. When a person has consumed a certain level of alcohol, the brain can’t control these types of minute involuntary movements.

Razumich Law: Indianapolis OVWI Defense

Because field sobriety tests are subjective, they are often easily challenged in criminal cases. The officer’s observations may have been inaccurate, or perhaps an officer might not have received the proper training to conduct field sobriety tests. If you have been charged with OVWI in Indiana, I can help. Contact my office today at 317-983-5333 to talk about your case.

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