Field Sobriety Tests

OFfices in Ravenna and STOW

Most law enforcement agencies in Ohio now utilize the three basic Standard Field Sobriety Tests set forth by the National Highway Safety Administration when testing a driver suspected of DUI.

These three tests are:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN)
  • The Walk and Turn test (WAT)
  • The One Leg Stand test (OLS)

These DUI field sobriety tests are supposedly geared to determine the degree of impairment caused by alcohol on a person’s driving ability. The procedure for administering these three standard tests is set forth by NHTSA. Police officers involved in DUI law enforcement are typically trained on how to administer these tests to suspects in drunk driving cases.

By law in Ohio, officers must “substantially comply” with the NHTSA protocol when giving these field sobriety tests to a DUI subject. Officers need to instruct the subject in the proper manner, demonstrate the tests correctly and score the tests in accordance with set definitions.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test Procedure

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus looks like this.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) refers to an involuntary jerking occurring as the eyes gaze towards the side. The subject experiencing the Nystagmus is unaware that the jerking is happening. Involuntary jerking becomes readily noticeable when an individual is impaired by alcohol.

In administering the HGN test, the officer has the DUI suspect follow the movement of a stimulus (typically a pen or fingertip) with the suspect’s eyes only. The stimulus must be positioned between 12 and 15 inches from the DUI suspect’s nose, slightly above eye level.

The movement of the stimulus consists of at least 14 passes in front of the eyes, in four segments. The officer is gauging equal tracking, smooth pursuit, Nystagmus at maximum deviation and the angle of onset. A properly conducted HGN test should take at least 83 seconds to perform.

Procedure for Walk and Turn Test

The WAT test should look like this.

The exact procedure to be used BY THE OFFICER administrating the WAT is as follows:

1. Instructions Stage: Initial Positioning and Verbal Instructions

For standardization in the performance of this test, have the suspect assume the heel-to-toe stance by giving the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  • “Place your left foot on the line” (real or imaginary). (Demonstrate.)
  • “Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with the heel of right foot against the toe of the left foot.” Demonstrate.
  • “Place your arms down at your sides.” (Demonstrate.)
  • “Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. Do not start to walk until told to do so.”
  • “Do you understand the instructions so far?” (Make sure suspect indicates understanding.)

2. Demonstrations and Instructions for the Walking Stage

Explain the test requirements, using the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  • “When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back.” (Demonstrate 3 heel-to-toe steps).
  • “When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot, like this.” (Demonstrate).
  • “While you are walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud.”
  • “Once you start walking, don’t stop until you have completed the test.”
  • “Do you understand the instructions?” (Make sure suspect understands).
  • “Begin, and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as “One.”

Procedure for One Leg Stand Test

The OLS test should look like this.

1. Instructions Stage: Initial Positioning and Verbal Instructions

Initiate the test by giving the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  • Please stand with your feet together and your arms down at the sides, like this.” Demonstrate.
  • Do not start to perform the test until I tell you to do so.”
  • “Do you understand the instructions so far?” (Make sure suspect indicates understanding.)

2. Demonstrations and Instructions for the Balance and Counting Stage

Explain the test requirements, using the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  • “When I tell you to start, raise one leg, either leg, with the foot approximately six inches off the ground, keeping your raised foot parallel to the ground.” Demonstrate one leg stance.
  • “You must keep both legs straight, arms at your side.”
  • “While holding that position, count out loud in the following manner:”one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, etc….” (Demonstrate a count as follows: one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, etc….” The officer should not look at his foot when conducting the demonstration – OFFICER SAFETY.)
  • “Keep your arms at your sides at all times and keep watching the raised foot.”
  • “Do you understand?” (Make sure suspect indicates understanding.)
  • “Go ahead and perform the test.” (Officer should always time the 30 seconds. The test should be discontinued after 30 seconds.)

Observe the suspect from a safe distance. If the suspect puts the foot down, give instructions to pick the foot up again and continue counting from the point at which the foot touched the ground. If the suspect counts very slowly, terminate the test after 30 seconds.

Considerations in DUI Field Sobriety Testing

The Standard Field Sobriety Tests are not at all flexible. They must be exactly administered as outlined, and under particular conditions. These tests are only valid if the tests are administered in the prescribed, standardized manner. Performance can only be accurately measured when the standardized criteria are employed to interpret the results. Otherwise, the validity is compromised.

No Penalty for Declining the Field Sobriety Tests

Although there is no requirement that a DUI suspect performs these tests, and there is no penalty for declining the field sobriety tests, the police officer will typically be quite upset, since you will be denying him/her critical evidence needed to convict you of a DUI/OVI. There is also no penalty for declining the Portable Breath Test.

Although you will most likely be arrested, declining these tests places your DUI lawyer in a much better position to beat the DUI charge outright.

A Highly-Skilled DUI Defense Attorney is a Necessity

If you hope to have any chance of contesting DUI field sobriety tests, it is imperative that you have a highly-skilled criminal defense lawyer with extensive expertise in DUI law.


With Attorney Dan Weisenburger,
Board Certified Criminal Defense Specialist

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