Field Sobriety Tests


The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of three tests administered, and evaluated in a standardized manner to obtain indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest. I discourage clients from submitting to field sobriety test for a few reasons. First, even when properly administered, the SFST is not a 100% reliable indicator of intoxication. Second, submitting to the SFST provides the officer with an additional opportunity to observe you. Finally, Ohio does not sanction a refusal to do these tests.




Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)Testing


HGN is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol-impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object. In the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of a suspect as the suspect follows a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally with his or her eyes. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: 1) if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, 2) if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and 3) if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. If, between the two eyes, four or more clues appear, the suspect likely has a BAC of 0.08 or greater. NHTSA research found that this test only allows proper classification of approximately 88% of suspects (Stuster and Burns, 1998). HGN may also indicate consumption of seizure medications, phencyclidine, a variety of inhalants, barbiturates, and other depressants. However, the HGN is designed for emergency room doctors to diagnose head injuries, not for police officers to check for alcohol impairment along side a freeway, and there are dozens of reasons OTHER than alcohol as to why an eyeball may "bounce" or "jump".


Walk & Turn (WAT)


The WAT test and One-Leg Stand (OLS) test are "divided attention" tests. The tests require a suspect to listen to and follow instructions while performing physical movements. It is maintained that impaired people have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between mental and physical exercises.


In the WAT test, the suspect is instructed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment: 1) if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, 2) begins before the instructions are finished, 3) stops while walking to regain balance, 4) does not touch heel-to-toe, 5) steps off the line, 6) uses arms to balance, 7) makes an improper turn, or 8) takes an incorrect number of steps. NHTSA research indicates that 79% of suspects who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.08 or greater (Stuster and Burns, 1998).


One Leg Stand (OLS)


In the OLS test, the suspect is directed to stand on one foot with the other foot approximately six inches off the ground, and to count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including 1) swaying while balancing, 2) using arms to balance, 3) hopping to maintain balance, and 4) putting the foot down. NHTSA research indicates that 83% of individuals who exhibit two or more such indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.08 of greater (Stuster and Burns, 1998).


Combined Measures


It is claimed that when the three tests are administered properly and the results combined, that they have an accuracy of 91%. ORC §4511.19(D)(4)(b) provides that evidence of a SFST is only admissible "if it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the officer administered the test in substantial compliance with the testing standards for any reliable, credible and generally accepted field sobriety tests that were in effect at the time the tests were administered...." However, experience and training indicate oftentimes the tests are not administered in substantial compliance with the testing standards.


If you have been requested to submit to any or all of the above Field Sobriety Tests, make sure the test were properly administered. Please call 216.225.9181, Email, or use the contact form to schedule an initial consultation.