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What are field sobriety tests and are they accurate?

Field sobriety tests, you've seen them in movies. A police officer pulls over someone suspected of impaired driving, asks him or her to get out of the car and walk a straight line or say the alphabet backwards. How he or she does will determine if the officer will make an arrest. While movie examples fail to provide the most accurate view of field sobriety tests, such tests do exist and North Carolina residents suspected of driving while impaired may be asked to submit to them.

What are the standard field sobriety tests? Are they always accurate? Does a DUI charge mean I should expect a conviction?

Standard tests

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there are only three standardized field sobriety tests. These include the following:

  • Walk and turn: In this test, officers will ask you, as the suspected impaired driver, to walk a straight line so many steps, turn and walk back. There can be no attempts to catch your balance -- such as swaying or putting your arms out.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus: In this test, an officer will ask you to stare at an object or the officer's finger and follow it with your eyes. When the eyes roll to certain angles, they will jerk involuntarily. Police are looking for an exaggerated jerking motion in this test.
  • One-leg stand: This test is just what it sounds like. Officers will ask you to stand on one leg and raise your foot on the opposite leg roughly six inches off the ground. You must stay in this position for 30 seconds or until the officer tells you to stop. You cannot use your arms for balance or touch your foot to the ground at any time during the test.

Failing to follow the officer's directions completely or showing any signs of impairment may result in your arrest.

Accuracy

These tests are believed to be highly accurate even though there are those who disagree with that. The truth of the matter is that these tests are extremely subjective. One officer might see an impaired person, while another might not.

If a police officer pulled you over for suspected impaired driving, and you end up failing the field sobriety tests, it is not the end of the world. It does not mean that you'll automatically face a conviction on a DUI charge. With the assistance of legal counsel, you may be able to fight the results of the tests and seek a case dismissal or at least a reduction in the charges.

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