Field Sobriety Test During A DUI Stop

What Is A Field Sobriety Test That Happens During A DUI Stop?

We’ve all seen the picture – a man stopped by a police officer by the side of the road, his index finger on his nose while one foot is in the air. But, is this really representative of a field sobriety test in Colorado?

Let’s take a closer look at this test for a DUI.

In Colorado, a field sobriety test (FST) is commonly used by law enforcement to determine whether a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. These tests are designed to assess a person’s balance, coordination, and ability to perform tasks that require divided attention, which are capabilities typically diminished by alcohol or drug use. Here is a detailed overview of the components that typically make up a field sobriety test in Colorado:

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Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has standardized three tests to increase the reliability and validity of field sobriety evaluations. These are the most commonly used tests in DUI stops:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

This test involves observing the eyes of a driver as they follow a moving object such as a pen or flashlight horizontally with their eyes. The officer looks for signs of nystagmus (involuntary jerking of the eyeball), which can be exaggerated by alcohol consumption or the use of certain other drugs. The three indicators assessed in each eye include:

  • The smoothness of the eye’s tracking.
  • Whether nystagmus is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation.
  • If the angle of onset of nystagmus occurs before 45 degrees.

Walk-and-Turn (WAT)

The walk-and-turn test is a “divided attention” test that requires a suspect to listen to and follow instructions while performing physical movements. The test involves taking nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turning on one foot, and returning in the same manner. This test assesses the subject’s ability to:

  • Maintain balance while listening to instructions.
  • Begin walking only after the instructions have finished.
  • Stay on the line.
  • Walk heel-to-toe.
  • Turn accurately.
  • Count the steps aloud.
  • Complete the test without stopping.
  • One-Leg Stand (OLS)

In the one-leg stand test, the individual is asked to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. Indicators of impairment include:

  • Swaying while balancing.
  • Using arms to balance.
  • Hopping to maintain balance.
  • Putting the foot down.
  • Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

In addition to the standardized tests, officers may use other tests to gauge impairment. These are not universally standardized or validated but can be indicative based on the discretion of the officer. Common non-standardized tests include:

  • Finger-to-Nose Test: The driver must close their eyes, tilt their head back, and touch the tip of their nose with the tip of their index finger.
  • Alphabet Test: Reciting a part of the alphabet from a non-customary starting point (e.g., from D to Q).
  • Counting Test: Counting backwards from one number to another smaller number.
  • Preliminary Breath Test (PBT)

While not part of the physical coordination tests, a preliminary breath test using a handheld alcohol breath testing device may also be administered at the scene. This is used to measure the alcohol concentration in the breath, providing additional evidence of impairment.

Legal Implications and Use Of A Field Sobriety Test

It’s important to note that participation in field sobriety tests in Colorado is voluntary. Drivers have the right to refuse these tests, which can be advisable since the results can be subjective and are often used to build a case for DUI charges. However, refusal can lead to other legal consequences under Colorado’s express consent law, such as revocation of driving privileges.

Field sobriety tests in Colorado are primarily composed of three standardized tests (HGN, WAT, OLS) supplemented by additional non-standardized tests and preliminary breath testing. These tests are designed to provide evidence of impairment through observed physical and cognitive functions that are typically diminished under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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