What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

In New York State, field sobriety tests are part of the police academy training and Department of Protocol that a police officer is supposed to employ before they make a determination whether to arrest your or let you go in connection with a DWI stop. If an officer stops you for a traffic infraction and believes that you might be intoxicated, they will ask you if you’ve been drinking, ask you to exit the car, and then have you perform a standardized field sobriety test.

As your attorney, we will explore if the officer hasn’t been trained in field sobriety testing at the police academy or passed a certification to indicate that he can provide, and is authorized to provide, and passed the test that he knows how to employ a field sobriety test. In many instances, the officers had little or no training or didn’t pass the training that they had to give a field sobriety test.

They can do it at the roadside or back at the station. At the roadside, they’re supposed to do it in an area that’s flat, where it’s well-lit, and they’re supposed to explain and show you how to perform the field sobriety test. They will evaluate your performance based upon how you look and whether you follow their instructions properly. During a walk-and-turn test, they have you walk heel to toe, one foot in front of the other for nine steps and ask you to turn around and come back. They will ask you to count out loud, so if the person doesn’t, they mark that down as a factor that may have you fail the test. If you turnaround after ten steps or eleven steps, they can mark that as a failure. They will look at and gauge your performance on the instructions as well as the test itself.

The field sobriety tests, however, are not foolproof. Many people sober would have difficulty performing a field sobriety test, never mind under the conditions where you’re on the roadside, you’re afraid that you’re about to be arrested, you’re afraid that if you don’t perform well, you’re going to be arrested. If you’ve had any sort of physical injuries or conditions, all that gets factored in later. As your defense attorney, we would speak to the prosecutor and present that information that would be why you may have failed various amount of the test.

The officer has discretion to make an arrest, based upon how you perform on the test. They’re supposed to give you more of the test not fewer of the test, however many times. If the officer doesn’t follow the protocols they’re required to and how they administer the test, we can have the test suppressed or discarded as part of the case. That’s the main factor that an officer will look at in addition to your general physical condition and how much you told them you had to drink, that he’ll utilize in making the basis for the arrest.

In cases where the officer doesn’t give field sobriety tests or where they don’t give them properly, or the officer doesn’t have the certifications to administer them, that would weigh heavily in your favor to have the results of those tests thrown out of court. Then officer is stuck with relying on his belief that you were intoxicated, based upon your physical condition, and whether or not you would submit to a breathalyzer test later and what the results would be.

The Law Office of Kevin T. Conway serves all of Rockland County clients facing criminal charges, including DUIs, drug charges, sex crimes, violent crimes, and gun charges. If you need our legal services, contact our Spring Valley office for a consultation.