Legal Implications of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

Legal Implications of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are an important component of law enforcement’s toolkit in determining if a driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Administered during a traffic stop, these tests are designed to assess a driver’s physical and cognitive abilities, providing officers with evidence to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest.

Here in Franklin and across Tennessee, drivers are considered to have given their implied consent to submit to field sobriety tests when they obtain a driver’s license. Refusal to comply with FSTs may result in administrative penalties such as license suspension.

Our Franklin DUI defense attorneys often challenge the results of FSTs in court. We may argue that the tests were administered improperly, that the officer lacked proper training, or that external factors influenced the results. Successfully challenging FST evidence can be instrumental in building a strong defense.

Types of field sobriety tests

There are three FSTs sanctioned by the National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). The HGN test involves tracking a moving object, typically a pen or flashlight, with your eyes. Law enforcement officers observe involuntary eye movements, known as nystagmus, which can be exaggerated when a person is under the influence.
  2. Walk-and-Turn (WAT). During the WAT test, a driver is instructed to take a certain number of steps along a straight line, heel-to-toe, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. Officers look for indicators of impairment, such as a lack of balance or the inability to maintain a straight line.
  3. One-Leg Stand (OLS). In the OLS test, the driver is required to stand on one leg for a specified duration. Officers observe the driver’s ability to maintain balance and look for signs of swaying, hopping, or putting the foot down.

Tips for drivers during field sobriety tests

If you are pulled over and asked to undergo an FST, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Remain calm and cooperative. It’s important to remain calm and cooperative during a traffic stop. Being polite and respectful can contribute to a more positive interaction with law enforcement.
  • Document the situation. If possible, drivers may discreetly document the traffic stop by taking note of the time, location, and any relevant details. This information could be valuable when consulting with a DUI defense attorney. You can even film the traffic stop if you are able.
  • Seek legal advice. If charged with DUI based on FST results, ensure you seek legal advice from an experienced attorney like those at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates. We can assess the circumstances surrounding the tests, challenge their validity, and formulate a strategic defense.

What defenses do I have against a field sobriety test result?

If you’re facing a DUI charge based on Field Sobriety Test (FST) results, there are several defenses that our skilled DUI defense attorneys may use to challenge the validity and reliability of these tests. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these defenses can vary based on the specific circumstances of your case, Tennessee laws, and the details surrounding the administration of the FSTs. Here are some common defenses:

  • Improper administration of tests. Challenge the way the FSTs were administered. Law enforcement officers are required to follow specific procedures when conducting these tests. If there were deviations from the standardized procedures or if the officer lacked proper training, it could weaken the prosecution’s case.
  • External factors affecting performance. External factors, such as adverse weather conditions, uneven roads, or poor lighting, can all affect a driver’s ability to perform FSTs accurately. Your attorney may argue that these external factors contributed to an inaccurate assessment of impairment.
  • Medical conditions or injuries. Certain medical conditions, injuries, or disabilities may affect your ability to perform physical tasks required by FSTs. Conditions like vertigo, joint problems, or inner ear issues could result in poor performance on tests that measure balance and coordination.
  • Nervousness and anxiety. Nervousness or anxiety during a traffic stop is common, and it can affect a person’s performance on FSTs. Our attorneys may argue that your nervousness was misinterpreted as impairment, leading to an inaccurate assessment.
  • Footwear and clothing. Inappropriate footwear or restrictive clothing may hinder your ability to perform certain FSTs. If you were wearing heels, heavy boots, or uncomfortable clothing at the time of the tests, it could be a factor in challenging the results.
  • Inadequate lighting or visibility. Poor lighting or visibility at the location where FSTs were conducted may have affected the accuracy of the tests. If the officer failed to provide proper lighting, we can argue that this compromised the reliability of your results.
  • Failure to provide clear instructions. Officers must provide clear and accurate instructions when administering FSTs. If the instructions were unclear, confusing, or inconsistent, it could affect your ability to perform the tests correctly.
  • Challenge the officer’s observations. FSTs are often subjective, relying on the observations and interpretations of the arresting officer. Our attorneys may question the officer’s credibility and challenge the accuracy of their observations during the FSTs.
  • Alternative explanations for poor performance. We may also present alternative explanations for poor performance on FSTs. This could include fatigue, stress, or pre-existing medical conditions that may have affected your ability to perform the tests.

Were you arrested after taking a field sobriety test? The Franklin criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates can help. Talk to us today about how we can provide a strong defense for your case. To schedule a consultation, give us a call or use our online contact form. We’re proud to serve clients in Franklin, Brentwood, Columbia, and throughout Middle Tennessee.