Understanding Field Sobriety Tests in Louisiana

It is natural to feel nervous if you are pulled over by the police. Whether or not you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your nerves may cause the officer to suspect you are drinking and driving. As a result of that suspicion, the officer or state trooper may ask that you complete a standardized field sobriety test. Louisiana does not require you to complete a field sobriety test, and you need to understand what tasks will be asked of you before you are arrested for a DUI even if you are sober.

What Do I Need to Do to Pass a Field Sobriety Test?

In Louisiana, there are 3 standard field sobriety tests (SFSTs) that the officer can ask you to perform. They are:

1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN) is one that may seem the easiest to do. Here, the police officer will examine your eye movements by asking you to follow a pen or light with your eyes. The officer is making sure you can follow the horizontal movements with your eyes. If you have any eye condition such as a lazy eye or any other irregularity, it would be easy for the officer to get an incorrect reading.

2. The Walk and Turn Test

The walk and turn test, also called the “divided attention test,” involves your ability to walk a straight line. Here, you will walk nine steps forward, turn on one foot and walk nine steps back. The officer or state trooper is looking to see how well you balance and if you need to use your arms and legs for assistance. Being intoxicated or high on drugs will affect your ability to complete this test but so will nerves or a natural lack of balance.

3. The One Leg Stand Test

The one leg stand test checks to see if alcohol or drug use affected your balance. For this task, you would need to hold your foot approximately six inches off the ground and count or recite the alphabet until the officer tells you to stop. Getting the numbers or letters wrong, swaying, using your arms or legs, hopping or putting your foot down could all result in your being charged with a DUI. Nerves, lack of coordination or a pre-existing medical condition can all cause you to fail this sobriety test even if you are not intoxicated.

You Have the Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests in Louisiana

Aside from knowing what a police officer will ask you to do, you should be aware of your rights concerning field sobriety tests. You do not get a choice which field sobriety test you will need to complete. The officer may ask you to do all or just some of them. Rather than risk arrest for drinking and driving, you have the right to politely decline the test. You may still be arrested for a DUI if the officer has any other evidence that you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but at least you did not take a test that could worsen your argument in a court of law.

Under no circumstances can a police officer or state trooper force you to take a field sobriety test. If you were threatened or forced in any way, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney right away to prevent yourself from facing the harsh consequences of a DUI conviction when your rights were violated.

How to Challenge a Field Sobriety Test

If you do complete the SFSTs and are charged with drinking and driving, remember that a trained DUI attorney can still convince a jury or judge to find you innocent due to flaws in the tests’ accuracy. The accuracy rate of SFSTs is only 82% when all three tests are in place. Thus, there is a 20% chance that you can fail the tests and not have been too impaired to drive. If you only took one of the tests, the accuracy is even less precise as the tests range from 23-32% inaccurate. Even with the flaws in the SFSTs, a judge or jury will still consider your results as evidence you were intoxicated. Only a trained DUI attorney can properly present the data to demonstrate your innocence.

You can fail a field sobriety test for many reasons that have nothing to do with you. A police officer could incorrectly administer the field tests. Similarly, the results of the field sobriety tests are subjective. This means that the officer could say you failed, but it is really only his or her opinion. You shouldn’t go to jail or pay the fines for a DUI arrest when an officer made a mistake or is relying simply on his or her opinion. Criminal defense attorneys are experts at cross examining police officers and state troopers. Their questioning can poke holes in the State’s case by showing a lack of expertise, the possibility of a mistake, flaws in how the tests were administered, etc.

Our skilled New Orleans DUI attorneys are trained to find the errors associated with field sobriety tests and know how to best fight for your rights. Call our office for consultation.

Call 985-643-0316 if you were arrested for DWI in any of the following parishes:

Call 504-259-7461 if you were arrested for DWI in any other parish in Louisiana, including: