Drivers who are pulled over for a DUI in Oakland or the East Bay may be asked to do some roadside tests. Drivers may have no idea how reliable these tests are or if they are even backed up by research. In fact, drivers do not even have to submit to these tests. It is useful for drivers to know about these roadside sobriety tests so they can decide whether or not to do them or not.
The following is information about standardized and non-standardized field sobriety tests in California. If you have any questions about how these tests can be used against you in court, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer about your options.
Field Sobriety Tests in California
A field sobriety test is a roadside test administered by police to try and gauge a driver's impairment. These tests are known as "divided attention" tests, which require the brain to respond to different stimuli at the same time. Processing different information sources simultaneously can be more difficult when a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Other mental and physical conditions can also make it more difficult to complete these tests, even if the driver is completely sober. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, stroke, or people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may have trouble with divided attention tests.
There have been a number of roadside sobriety tests used to test drivers, even without much research to back up the reliability of these tests. In the 1970s, some of these tests underwent further review to determine which tests were more reliable, even if never fully reliable. In California, law enforcement officers can take a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing course to be trained in how to administer and evaluate SFSTs.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
There are several types of field sobriety tests (FSTs). However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has only endorsed three tests for use in roadside field sobriety testing. The standardized field sobriety tests include:
The walk-and-turn and one-leg-stand tests are divided attention tests. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyes. Law enforcement officers are supposed to give drivers a specific set of instructions and evaluate the driver's performance on clues that may indicate impairment.
What Are Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
There are a variety of field sobriety tests that are not approved for use by the NHTSA. Some of these tests include:
- Hand Pat Test
- Finger-to-Nose Test
- Balance Test (Romberg)
- ABC Alphabet Test
- Counting Test
- Finger Count Test
Hand Pat Test
The hand-pat test or palm-pat test is a divided attention test. The driver holds out both hands, one palm up and the other palm down on top of the other. The driver is then instructed to pat the bottom hand with the top and rotate only the top hand palm up and palm down, repeatedly patting the bottom hand. The bottom hand does not rotate. The driver is to count out loud for each pat.
The finger-to-nose (FTN) test is one of the most familiar roadside sobriety tests, even though it has not been endorsed for use as a standardized test. With the FTN test, the driver stands with feet together and arms down to the side. With closed eyes and head tilted back, the driver closes their hands, turns the palm forward, and extends the index finger. The driver then touches the tip of the finger to the tip of the nose, on the officer's instruction of "left" for the left hand and "right" for the right hand.
Balance Test (Romberg)
The modified Romberg balance test begins with the driver standing with their feet together, and arms down at the side. The driver tilts their head back slightly and closes their eyes. The driver is asked to stay in that position until 30 seconds have passed. Then, opening their eyes and lowering the head, responding, "stop." The indicators of the balance test during a traffic stop include:
- Estimation of the time estimation of 30 seconds
- Observation of tremors
- Observation of swaying
ABC Alphabet Test
The alphabet test requires a driver to say part of the alphabet in order. These tests do not start with the letter A, as in "A, B, C." Instead, the officer will instruct the driver to recite the alphabet starting with another letter. For example, the officer may say, "recite the alphabet starting with the letter F as in Ferrari and stop with the letter Q as in Question."
The count down test has a driver count down backward from one number for about 15 or more numbers to stop at a designated number. For example, the officer may say, "count out loud backward, starting with the number 69 and ending with the number 51." This is another divided attention test that requires the driver to simultaneously concentrate on counting backward while remembering when to stop.
Finger Count Test
The finger count test asks the driver to touch the tip of the thumb to each finger tip while counting up from one to four, then reversing the direction counting down from 4 to 1. This is a divided attention task where the driver has to concentrate on touching finger tips to the thumb while counting and reversing the process.
DUI Defense in the East Bay
If you are arrested for a DUI in the East Bay, talk to a criminal defense attorney about your rights. East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of DUI defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing drivers in Oakland, Alameda County, and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with DUI defense strategies for drivers accused of drunk driving.