The Role of Field Sobriety Tests in a DUI Case: Do They Hold Up in Court?

field sobriety tests in a DUI case

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) have become an important tool for law enforcement officers to determine whether someone is impaired while behind the wheel.

But do these tests actually hold up in court?

The reality is that FSTs are not foolproof—many factors can affect their accuracy and reliability. In this article, we will explore what field sobriety tests involve and how they’re used by police officers when making DUI arrests.

We’ll also examine how courts view these tests during trial proceedings and discuss some strategies for challenging them when necessary.

What Is a Field Sobriety Test?

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are an important part of the legal process in any DUI case. They provide law enforcement officers with a way to assess whether or not a driver is impaired, and they can serve as valuable evidence if brought into court. However, it’s important to understand what FSTs are before discussing their role in a DUI case.

A field sobriety test requires physical movements by the person being tested, such as walking heel-to-toe in a straight line or standing on one leg while counting out loud. If you’re pulled over on suspicion of a DUI, officers will look for certain indicators of impairment — such as instability or lack of coordination — and record them for later review if necessary.

3 Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Used in DUI/OVI Investigations

The standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are three roadside tests that police officers use to gauge an individual’s level of intoxication. Each test assesses different physical and cognitive indicators of alcohol impairment, such as balance, coordination, and divided attention.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus or HGN Test

This test evaluates eye-jerking movements in response to visual stimuli. It can detect even slight signs of alcohol impairment since impaired individuals have difficulty keeping their eyes stable when they look side-to-side.

The Walk & Turn Test

An officer will ask you to walk nine steps heel-to-toe in a straight line, then turn around and repeat it back in the opposite direction without losing your balance or taking any extra steps. Impaired people may struggle with these tasks due to motor skill problems caused by drinking too much alcohol.

The One-leg Stand Test

This test requires you to stand still for about 30 seconds while raising one foot off the ground six inches above your other foot and counting out loud in thousands (one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.) until told otherwise by the officer administering the test. People who are under the influence of alcohol often find this difficult because their sense of balance has been affected by the substance.

These three components comprise the standardized field sobriety tests used by law enforcement officials in Ohio. However, additional non-standardized field sobriety tests may be administered at certain discretion during DUI stops, like reciting specific alphabet letters or touching fingertips together while extending arms outwardly away from the body.

What Is the Significance of Field Sobriety Test Results?

Field sobriety tests are one of the primary ways that law enforcement officers determine if someone is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The performance of these tests is used to measure a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. The results of these tests are very important as they can be used to determine if someone has had too much to drink or is under the influence of drugs.

They can also be used as evidence in a criminal case if the person is charged with a DUI or in civil cases where a person is suing for damages caused by intoxicated driving.

Factors That Can Influence a Field Sobriety Test

FSTs are an important part of a DUI case.

However, several factors can influence the results of FSTs and their accuracy, including:

  • Medical conditions that affect balance, coordination, or muscle control
  • Nervousness or anxiety, which can lead to shaky movements or uneven gait
  • Footwear that hinders balance, such as high heels or flip-flops
  • Environmental factors like uneven or slippery surfaces, poor lighting, or distracting noises
  • Inadequate instructions or unclear demonstration of FST by law enforcement
  • Language barriers or physical disabilities that impede understanding or execution of the test
    Studies have shown that officers may interpret certain behaviors differently depending on their racial biases or stereotypes about alcohol consumption and impairment levels.

These factors highlight the need for continued research to improve the accuracy and fairness of field sobriety testing.

Field Sobriety Tests in Court Cases

Field sobriety tests are vital in determining the guilt or innocence of an individual facing DUI or OVI charges in court cases. The test results corroborate other evidence, such as breathalyzer readings and witness testimony.

However, there have been OVI/DUI defenses challenging the accuracy of these tests. When a person is suspected of DUI and “fails” a field sobriety test, prosecutors may use their performance on that test as evidence in court.

Furthermore, officers must follow certain protocols while administering the test; any deviation from those standards may weaken its validity in court proceedings.

On the other hand, defendants can challenge field sobriety tests by citing factors that may have affected their performance. When defending themselves against allegations based on field sobriety tests, suspects should present all relevant information about why their performance did not indicate intoxication.

Recent Court Rulings on Field Sobriety Tests

There have been several recent court rulings regarding using field sobriety tests in Ohio DUI cases.

In the 2016 case, Cleveland v. Krivich, the field sobriety tests conducted on the driver were deemed invalid. This was because the officer administering the tests gave improper instructions to the driver. Although the driver didn’t pass the tests, the case was dismissed because of the officer’s error in the instruction.

This ruling highlights the importance of following proper protocols when administering field sobriety tests and the need for officers to have reasonable suspicion before conducting them. If these protocols are not followed, or a driver’s rights are violated, the test results may be inadmissible in court.

Contact an Ohio DUI Defense Attorney

If you or someone you know has been arrested for driving under the influence in Ohio, you must act fast.

Don’t wait until the last minute to find a DUI defense attorney—the sooner you act, the better your chances of success. An experienced defense attorney can help you navigate the legal system, assess the evidence against you, and challenge the results of any field sobriety tests administered by the arresting officer.

Contact us today for a free consultation and to learn more about how we can fight your DUI charge. With our experience and dedication, we can give you the best chance of achieving a favorable outcome in your case.

Author Bio

Botnick Law Firm

Robert Botnick is CEO and Managing Partner of Botnick Law Firm, a criminal defense law firm in Cleveland, OH. With more than 19 years of experience in criminal defense, he has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, misdemeanors, felonies, domestic violence, and other criminal charges.

Robert received his Juris Doctor from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including the Best DUI Lawyers in Cleveland award by

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