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Types of Field Sobriety Tests Used in Montgomery County DUI Cases

Field sobriety tests are a series of exercises where the officer will use your body’s movements, involuntary physiological responses, and ability to follow directions to try to gauge whether or not you’re impaired by alcohol. There are three tests—specifically, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test and the one leg stand test.

Below a Montgomery County DUI lawyer discusses these tests and how they are typically administered.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

During the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the officer is watching your eyes move and checking for a wobbling or an erratic movement in the eye. That’s not a voluntary response, you don’t have any control over it. Your body just does it automatically. That test is administered by an officer having you track either his finger, or a pen, or a flashlight while he moves it back and forth across your field of view while only moving your eyes and not moving your head.

That test is a lot harder to admit than the other two tests in Maryland. In order to admit that test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the State needs to certify that their officer is in fact an expert.  They need to qualify that officer as an expert to the satisfaction of the court, and then that test is only admissible to show the presence of alcohol, not any type of impairment.

Walk-And-Turn Test

The next test is the walk and turn test. During that test the officer will ask an individual to stand in the instructional position with their feet together and arms at their sides without moving while the officer then explains the test to them.

Any movement from that instructional position will be counted against the individual and that’s one of the most common clues on that test. People don’t stand in this rigid position with their feet together and their arms at their sides while the test is being explained. The officer is then going to cite that as evidence of possible impairment. The test itself is taking nine heel to toe steps out, usually on an imaginary line. Planting your front foot, pivoting around that front foot with a series of small steps and then taking nine heel to toe steps back. It’s not exactly a fair test. Most people believe that the walk and turn test is looking at whether or not you can walk a straight line, turn around, and walk back like you’re not drunk. What the officer is actually looking at in that test is:

-Did you stand in the correct instructional position?

-Did you step off the imaginary line?

-Did you click your heel and toe together with every step that you took?

-Did you raise your arms for balance?

-Did you do the turn in the manner that the officer instructed you to?

That test is very difficult even for an individual who’s had nothing to drink to pass, particularly when that individual is on the side of the road extremely nervous because they just got pulled over for suspicion of DUI.

One-Leg Stand Test

The third and final test is the one leg stand test. This test is almost exactly what is sounds like, as the officer will tell you to stand in an instructional position while they explain the test. They will then tell you to raise one foot of your choice, six inches off the ground, keep your arms at your sides and then count to thirty.

By doing this, the officer is measuring your ability to multitask, so can you keep count while keeping your balance, as well as your percieved sense of time. So do you estimate 30 as 15 seconds or do you estimate 30 as 30 seconds or do you estimate 30 as a minute. The officer will be using that as an indicator of your potential impairment.

Do These Tests Need To Be Administered In a Certain Way?

They do, they’re called standardized field sobriety tests. That means that if they’re not administered and marked in standardized manner then they’re not worth anything. The officer’s training, which they received through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is very explicit in that regard. The tests need to be conducted and graded in a standardized manner, or else they’re not valid.