If an Officer Asks, Should You Perform Any Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)?

No.

The police will never tell you this, but you are not required to take any of the SFSTs. The simple truth is this: the SFSTs are only used to make the police case against you stronger. The tests are extremely hard to perform. In some cases a ballerina would have difficulty passing them. You may think you are doing well but when you finally see the police report you will normally find the police failed you on each test, and often for extremely technical reasons that have nothing to do with whether you were intoxicated. The best course of action is to be polite but to tell the officer that you’ve been advised by your attorney, to refuse the SFSTs.

If you do decide to take the SFSTs, you should be aware that there are about 20 different balance and coordination tests that some officers will use. These tests range from the ones most people are aware of (walk the line, touch your nose, recite the alphabet), to more obscure tests such as stand on one leg, hand pat, and finger count. However, there are only 3 SFSTs that have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: One leg stand, Walk the line (heel to toe), and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus.

The nystagmus test is particularly dangerous both because it lacks a meaningful scientific basis and because it is difficult to administer. The officer will ask you to follow a penlight, tip of a pencil or even the tip of his or her finger as the “target” is moved slowly from in a horizontal (left to right) line, you must keep your head still. The officer will try to estimate the angle at which he or she observes an involuntary bouncing or jerking of the eye as it tracks the target. If the bouncing or jerking is observed prior to 45 degrees it supposedly indicates a blood alcohol level of .05% (or greater BA the sooner it is observed). Even in the cases where it is properly administered, the scientific literature shows there are numerous situations in which it has no merit.

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