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Florida Field Sobriety Testing

When a law enforcement officer stops a driver that he or she suspects has been drinking, the officer will attempt to determine whether or not the driver is impaired and to gather evidence supporting his or her suspicion. There are a variety of evidence-gathering techniques that law enforcement can employ, including simple observations of a driver’s appearance and behavior and the chemical testing of a driver’s blood, breath, or urine to measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  Drivers in Florida are NOT REQUIRED to perform field sobriety tests at the request of an officer.

One of the more commonly employed methods that law enforcement uses both to determine whether a person is intoxicated and to gather evidence of intoxication is the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Southern California Research Institute. The SFST is actually a battery of three distinct tests that are administered to a suspected intoxicated person, during which the officer administering the test looks for telltale signs of intoxication. The results of the test are often interpreted in an extremely subjective manner, leaving ample opportunity for a skilled defense lawyer to challenge the assertions made by law enforcement that the subject of the test was intoxicated. In fact, there are defenses in Florida DUI cases that may be available even if you consented to chemical testing and that testing indicated a BAC in excess of the legal limit. As a result, anyone facing a Florida DUI case should discuss their options with an attorney as soon as possible.

Three Separate Tests

The three tests included in the SFST are the following:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is used to observe the involuntary twitching of the eye muscles that occurs  when a person looks to the extreme right or left. When a person is intoxicated, this twitching becomes more pronounced and occurs at lesser angles than when that person is sober.

Walk-and-Turn – The Walk-and-Turn test is one of two “divided attention” tests that are part of the SFST.  According to the NHTSA website on the SFST, these tests are easily performed by most unimpaired people, but some may disagree with that assertion. The Walk-and-Turn test is administered by requesting that the subject take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. The subjectis then required to turn on one foot and return in the same manner. In this test, the officer giving the test looks for indicators of impairment that relate to balance, memory, motor skills, and understanding.

One-Leg Stand – The One-Leg Stand test is the other “divided attention” test that is part of the SFST. In this test, the subject is asked to stand with one foot about six inches from the ground while counting aloud by “one-one thousands” until the test administrator instructs the subject to put his or her foot down. The test is supposed to last for 30 seconds. The officer looks for signs of impairment related to issues with balance.

Various external factors other than intoxication can affect all of these tests.  Fatigue, medication, and environmental factors can increase horizontal gaze nystagmus, and each individual’s gait and balance is different at baseline levels.  An experienced attorney can attack an officer’s interpretation of a Defendant’s performance on each component of the SFST, often raising the “reasonable doubt” required to achieve an acquittal.

Contact a Boca Raton Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Anyone accused of DUI in Florida is potentially facing serious legal consequences and should discuss their case with an attorney as soon as possible. Do not hesitate to call Lavalle, Brown & Ronan today at (561) 395-0000 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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