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How Reliable are Field Sobriety Tests in a DWI Case?

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2019 | DWI |

New York DWI defense attorneys

When a motorist is pulled over for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the police officer may administer a series of field sobriety tests in order to decide whether or not the driver is impaired or drunk. These tests can help an officer determine a driver’s coordination and ability to understand directions. Since law enforcement will often use these assessments to decipher probable cause, citizens often believe their reliability. However, multiple factors can lead to an incorrect conclusion. If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI, it is important to understand your rights and speak to an experienced attorney.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

In order to determine a driver’s level of sobriety, police officers may utilize a variety of different evaluations. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are three main tests used by law enforcement:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: The driver will be asked to put their feet together and keep their hands by their side. While keeping their head still, the driver will be asked to follow a stimulus (pen, pencil, light) with their eyes only. The police officer will be looking for any variation of the instructions, as well as any involuntary jerking of the eyes, which may be more pronounced when a person is intoxicated.
  • Walk and Turn Test: The motorist will be asked to place their left and right foot on an imaginary or marked line, and to walk straight, touching heel to toe. Specific instructions will be given on how the motorist should conduct his or her turning motion. The walk and turn test can help determine coordination and ability to follow instructions.
  • One-Leg Stand Test: The driver will be instructed to keep both arms at their side while raising one leg, six inches in the air. The driver will have to count out loud until instructed to stop. This test will help determine the balance and ability to understand instructions.

Field Sobriety Test Statistics

The NHTSA’s own statistics prove that field sobriety tests are not always accurate. Out of these three tests, the NHTSA indicated that that the HGN test is the most accurate in determining whether or not a driver is intoxicated. Looking into the statistics, the administration estimates that when the tests are administered correctly:

  • 88 percent of drivers that fail the HGN test are intoxicated.
  • 83 percent of drivers that fail the one-leg test are intoxicated.
  • 79 percent of drivers that fail the walk and turn test are intoxicated.

Several factors can cause a sober person to fail a field sobriety test. Nerves, medication, police error, or physical disabilities can all lead to an inaccurate result. The accuracy rate declines even further if the officer makes any mistakes in administering the tests..

Contact a Manhattan Criminal Defense Attorney

The consequences of a DWI charge in the state of New York can be life-altering, and you could be facing prison time, the loss of your license, and financial penalties. If you have allegedly failed any one of the field sobriety tests, you should seek legal help immediately. With more than 25 years of experience, the accomplished New York City DWI defense lawyer can help you determine the best course of action to take. To schedule a consultation, contact JOEY JACKSON LAW, PLLC at 1-833-JOEYJACKSON or 1-833-563-9522.