Field Sobriety Tests and Improper Instruction

Nov 15, 2017 — by James E. Novak Attorney PLLC
Tags: Dui Criminal Law

Officer holding penA DUI case is a serious matter, and deserves a serious defense. Drivers who are pulled over for DUI face possible loss of driving privileges, as well as other harsh consequences. Most arrests start with an initial traffic stop, followed by a field sobriety test. When field sobriety tests involve improper instruction, the defendant can make a case that the charges should be dropped.

Phoenix, AZ attorney James Novak has a proven track record for successful defense of DUI cases. Drivers should include improper instructions given during a field sobriety test as part of their defense to the DUI charges.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

There are many types of field sobriety tests, each with certain requirements for proper performance. In the horizontal gaze test, the officer initiating the traffic stop will ask the driver to follow an object with the eyes, while keeping the head still. If the officer does not properly instruct the driver on how to perform this test, the results are unreliable. For instance, if a driver is not advised to move only the eyes, an arresting officer can mistake bodily movement for impairment.

Another common field sobriety test is the stand on one leg test. In this test, a driver is asked to stand on one leg while holding the other leg off the ground. The key here is that the driver must be advised how far off the ground to elevate the other leg; mistakes in instruction in this regard may result in unsteadiness that is perceived as having had too much to drink.

Perhaps the most difficult test to provide instruction on is the walk and turn test, where the driver must walk a straight line by placing the feet heel to toe for a certain number of steps, and then turn around and execute a return walk. The officer should perform this test first, as an example of how it is to be completed. Failure to do so allows for errors that should not be given consideration when determining whether a suspect should be charged with DUI.

How to Challenge a Field Sobriety Test Effectively

The manner in which a field sobriety test is challenged depends on the type of test given:

  • Horizontal Gaze: Effective challenges to this test include things like eliciting testimony from the officer as to whether the driver was asked if he or she wears contact lenses, whether the driver was advised that his or her eyes were being tested, whether the officer used the proper stimulus (a pen rather than a finger), and whether the officer moved the stimulus at the proper speed.
  • Walk and Turn: Possible defenses of the walk and turn test are whether the defendant was told to walk nine steps and no more, and whether the officer properly demonstrated the heel to toe placement required during the walk.
  • One Leg Stand: Requirements of the one leg stand test are that the defendant keeps his or her arms by their side and not outstretched, and that the test only last a certain amount of time and no longer. When testimony shows this test was not performed according to these requirements, the test results are not admissible.

A field sobriety test that is performed with improper instruction by the arresting officer should not be relied upon when charging a driver with DUI. To establish improper instruction, careful analysis is required, and thoughtful questioning of the arresting officer is critical. Once testimony is drawn out that the officer gave improper instruction for performance of the test, the test result should not be a part of the State’s case for DUI.

Who to Ask for Help with DUI Defense

If you have been charged with DUI, the Law Offices of James E. Novak, P.C. knows what to do to help. Our practice focuses on DUI and other criminal defense matters, and we have the experience you need for an effective defense. Let us help you today. Contact us online or call our office at (480) 413-1499.

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