What to expect from field sobriety tests

Tennessee residents have seen enough movies and television shows to get an initial idea of what occurs during a drunk driving traffic stop. Many of them even know someone who has experienced one. However, reality, as we all know, is oftentimes much different than what we see on TV. For that reason, it is important for our readers to understand what to expect from DUI stops and associated field sobriety tests if they are ever pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.

For starters, there are typically three types of field sobriety tests that most law enforcement officials attempt to administer: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test. Taken together, the results of these tests - good or bad - can purportedly help a law enforcement official determine whether or not a suspect is intoxicated.

The walk-and-turn test and the one-leg-stand test are fairly straightforward and self-explanatory. In the walk-and-turn test, the suspect is asked to walk a certain amount of steps along a straight line, and then turn around and walk back. This tests a person's ability to divide attention to separate tasks. The one-leg-stand test consists of the suspect lifting one leg off of the ground and holding it there for 30 seconds. This tests a person's balance.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test may sound unfamiliar to our readers, but it is probably better known as the "watch the tip of my pen while I move it back and forth" test. In this test, the suspect is asked to watch an item move back and forth and, while this occurs, the law enforcement official looks at the suspect's eyes to see if there is any involuntarily jerking movements which, if extreme, could be a sign of intoxication.

Although law enforcement officers often rely on these tests to determine whether drunk driving charges are warranted, the tests aren't fail-proof. In fact, oftentimes the results of these tests are misinterpreted or instructions are given to a motorist in an unclear fashion, thereby resulting in compromised results. Also, the reason for an initial traffic stop that led to the conducting of field sobriety tests may have been illegal, which would disallow the prosecution from using field sobriety tests test results in any subsequent legal action. This is all to say that those who have been accused of drunk driving have criminal defense options available to them. By speaking with an experienced legal professional, accused individuals may be able to develop a defense strategy that works for them.