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Maryland Field Sobriety Tests

A DUI or DWI arrest in Maryland can have significant negative impacts on your life, leading to years of personal and professional complications. A dedicated criminal defense attorney understands these complications and the extensive hardship they may cause you, and will therefore help protect you by building the strongest defense possible for your case. Usually, people who are charged with drunk driving undergo a series of field sobriety tests administered by law enforcement officials on-site. In order to better understand the types of sobriety tests to which you may be subjected if you are pulled over for drunk driving, please refer to the following list. For a comprehensive evaluation of your case should you be charged with DUI or DWI, contact a Maryland DUI attorney to discuss your options in further detail.

Standardized Field Sobriety Test

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are a collection of three separate tests, which were developed based on studies performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and are used by police officers to establish grounds for arrest in cases of suspected drunk driving. The SFSTs have over a 90 percent accuracy rate when used all together. The standardized tests include:

Horizontal Gaze Test:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) is “an involuntary jerking of the eye” that occurs when your eyes gaze to the side. HGN usually only occurs when the eyes are rotated at a high peripheral angle. When a person is under the influence of alcohol, HGN becomes more exaggerated and can occur at a lesser angle.  The person will probably also exhibit difficulty trying to track a slow-moving object with their eyes.

During the HGN test, a police officer will ask the driver to follow a moving object, such as a pen or a flashlight, and observe the eyes as they move. While the test is being conducted, the officer will be looking out for three specific indications of impairment for each eye, which include:

  • Inability to follow the moving object smoothly;
  • Distinct jerking when the eye is at maximum deviation;
  • Onset of jerking at an angle within 45 degrees of center.

With both eyes combined, if the police officers observe at least four indicators then the individual has ‘failed’ the test and it is likely that they have a BAC of .08 percent or higher. This test may also indicate that a person has ingested medication or other drugs besides alcohol.

Walk-and-Turn (WAT):

The Walk-and Turn (WAT) test is one of two “divided-attention” tests that constitute part of the standardized field sobriety exams. Essentially, the individual must divide their attention between simple physical and mental exercises. People who are under the influence of alcohol usually have difficulty with tasks that require their attention to be divided by listening and following instructions while also performing physical movements.

The WAT test requires the suspect to take nine steps in a straight line, putting heel to toe. The suspect must then turn on one foot and walk a straight line again in the opposite direction. Police officers will be watching out for the following eight indicators of impairment while the suspect performs the WAT test:

  • Unable to maintain balance during instructions;
  • Begins test before officer finishes instructions;
  • Stops to regain balance;
  • Fails to touch heel-to-toe;
  • Fails to walk in a straight line;
  • Uses arms to maintain balance;
  • Turns improperly;
  • Takes an incorrect amount of steps.

Suspects who exhibit three or more of these indicators during the Walk-and-Turn test are likely to have a BAC of .08 percent or higher and have failed the test.

One-Leg Test:

The One-Leg test is the second “divided attention” test.  The test requires the suspect to stand with one foot off the ground while they count out loud by the thousands until the officer instructs him or her to stop. The police officer will time the suspect for 30 seconds while they perform the test. They will be looking for at least two of the following four indicators:

  • Swaying while balancing;
  • Using arms to balance;
  • Hopping to maintain balance;
  • Putting down the foot.

A suspect is considered to have failed the test and are assumed to have a BAC of .08 or higher if law enforcement officials observe at least two of the indicators.

Combined Measures

When administered properly and used all together, the NHTSA reports that officers achieve an accuracy level of over 90 percent in identifying drunk drivers. As there are several other factors that could impair one’s ability to perform all three tests successfully, such as being overweight or wearing high heels, you will not necessarily have “failed” the standardized field sobriety tests as a whole if you cannot pass one.

Contact a Maryland DUI Attorney

An experienced Maryland DUI attorney will be well-versed in these sobriety tests and will be on the lookout for flaws in their administration in order to build the best possible defense for your case. Kush Arora has years of experience with drunk driving related-cases and will work tirelessly to have the charges reduced, or possibly dismissed. Your reputation and your future are at stake, therefore you need a criminal defense lawyer on your side who will protect you throughout your case. For a free evaluation, call Kush Arora’s Maryland law office at (301) 761-4842 today.