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Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in California

finger to nose test

What Field Sobriety Tests Do They Use in CA?

The field sobriety tests employed by police in Fresno and the surrounding areas include Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and a number of non-standardized tests. They use these during an investigation of a possible incident related to driving under the influence (DUI).

The SFSTs were developed as a result of research sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. A formal program of training was developed and is available through NHTSA to help law enforcement officers in the Fresno area to become more skillful at detecting DUI suspects, describing the behavior of these suspects, and presenting effective testimony in court.

Formal administration and accreditation of the SFSTs program is available through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The three tests are administered systematically and are evaluated according to measured responses of the suspect:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN),
  • Walk-and-turn (WAT), and
  • One-leg stand (OLS).

Many times the SFSTs are administered incorrectly, in an inappropriate setting or to an inappropriate candidate. Additionally, many officers will often use prior arrest reports and write the same observations over and over for persons arrested for DUI. Officers are rarely called on the carpet by inexperienced attorneys for these issues, however, a trained Fresno DUI attorney can make an officer look foolish if they administer these tests wrong, use non-standardized tests, or use the same language to describe them.

Some non-standardized tests include:

  • Touching finger-to-nose,
  • Romberg or modified position of attention,
  • Hand pat,
  • Finger count, and
  • Reciting the alphabet.

It is important to remember that with all of these SFSTs and FST's, the law enforcement officer observing the tests does not know how a person perform them when completely sober or without any alcohol in your system. Thus, the lack of baseline casts doubt on the interpretation of a person's performance in field sobriety tests when it relates to impairment.

The attorneys at Wapner Jones P.C. are SFST instructors and understand what is required of an officer to administer and evaluate your performance. It is vitally important that your Fresno DUI attorney has this knowledge and experience in order to rebut the officer's testimony that, based on these tests, you were under the influence and are unable to operate a motor vehicle safely.

If you have any questions about field sobriety tests, don't hesistate to speak with a DUI attorney from our firm today.

Can a person refuse to submit to FSTs in California?

A driver is not required to perform FSTs. The performance of FSTs, provides evidence of a possible DUI to the investigating officer as they build their DUI case against a driver. Many law enforcement officers do not understand the testing criteria for FSTs and they may not remember them from their training at the police academy.

Oftentimes, there is the appearance that the suspect was already going to be arrested before submitting to the tests and the FSTs were administered so to allow the officer to record some observations for their arrest report.

A DUI suspect should exercise their right to refuse performing any FSTs. Normally, a law enforcement officer will not inform the suspect of the criteria they are looking for in the performance of FSTs. The officer will, usually, not describe the various clues they are looking for to the suspect.

Also, the officer not inform the suspect of the number of clues necessary for failure of the test by the suspect. During a typical traffic stop in Fresno, the law enforcement officer will ask the driver to perform several FSTs. At the conclusion of those tests, the suspect will be informed that are being placed under arrest on DUI charges.Prior to placing the suspect driver under arrest, the investigating officer will not discuss the performance of the tests with the suspect. It is not uncommon to have persons arrested for DUI in Fresno to relate that they performed well on the FSTs only to discover a completely different description of their performance on the FSTs in the arrest report.

After you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) in California, odds are pretty high that sooner than later the police officer is going to tell you to step out of the car to perform some field sobriety tests (FST). At first, you might not recognize what they mean by a field sobriety test, but you have assuredly heard of them before.

Three most common field sobriety tests in California are:

  1. One-leg stand: You are told to stand on one leg for a duration, possibly a minute or more, and to do so with as little wobbling or balance issues as possible.
  2. Straight-line walk: You are told to walk a straight line drawn on the ground without using your arms for balance, turn around on your heel, and do it again. Repeat as necessary.
  3. Eye-reaction test: The officer will shine a light in your eyes and tell you to follow the tip of their pen or finger with just your pupils; you are not permitted to turn your neck.

The purpose of these FSTs is not necessarily to determine if you are intoxicated, but rather to determine if the officer can find a reason to put you in handcuffs and charge you for a DUI. For this indirect and unspoken purpose, in most cases, you should refuse to take any field sobriety tests in California.

Won’t I Get In Trouble If I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

Take another look at the aforementioned field sobriety tests and see which one seems like it can be scientifically judged with precision. You’re probably thinking that the answer is none, and you would be correct. A field sobriety test always relies on the officer’s own subjective opinion and discretion, not on any reliable form of calculation or study. And the criminal justice system knows this. In California State law, you can refuse to take a field sobriety test without any immediate consequence due to the unreliable nature of the tests themselves.

What is most likely going to happen is that you will be taken back to the station – detained but not charged with a DUI – and told to take a chemical test, such as one that uses your breath, blood, or urine. You should not refuse chemical tests, as doing so permits the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to instantly take away your driver’s license. Since this is an administrative punishment, no criminal defense attorney in the state can bring it to criminal court and challenge it.

Arrested for DUI? Get Defense

If you are facing charges related to the offense DUI in the Central Valley region, including Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County, do not think that your only choice is to plead guilty. Take a moment to contact the DUI attorneys at Wapner Jones P.C. and schedule a consultation in order to discuss the facts of your case and be advised of your options.

Facing DUI charges in California? Call (559) 257-4707 to get started.

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