Under Georgia law, it is illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, they are considered per se unlawfully intoxicated. However, before the police department or Georgia State Patrol arrests a driver for driving under the influence (DUI), they will try and gather evidence to justify the arrest, including having the driver participate in field sobriety tests, to gauge their level of intoxication.
Types of Field Sobriety Tests
There are three primary standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) at use in the state of Georgia. These include the eye test, one leg stand test, and the walk and turn test. According to national studies, these three tests, when properly conducted, show a correlation between their successful completion and level of alcohol intoxication. In conducting these three sobriety tests, the police are looking for very specific criteria, and scoring the participant to determine whether they will be arrested for drunk driving.
Eye Test or HGN
The field sobriety eye test is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN). This consists of having the driver follow a pen or small flashlight back and forth horizontally. The officer conducting the test is looking for involuntary jerking motions of the eye, that is not perceived by the person taking the test. However, there are factors which make this test unreliable, including naturally occurring eye conditions.
One Leg Stand Test
The One Leg Stand Test (OLS) consists of standing still on one leg for 30 seconds. The officer is looking for the driver to fall over, swing their arms, or hop on one foot, as a sign of failure. However, this test can be difficult for many people to complete if the trooper goes beyond 30 seconds, or for any length of time for people with weight conditions, or chronic pain.
Walk and Turn Test
The Walk and Turn Test (WAT) requires the subject to take nine steps, heel to toe, in a straight line. At the end, the person must turn, and repeat the steps back again. In this test, police are looking at multiple factors, including how and when the driver begins the test. Again, there are many factors which could render this test unreliable, including for elderly or overweight drivers, as well as poor lighting and an uneven road surface.
Field Sobriety Test Refusal
Drivers in the State of Georgia are not required to perform field sobriety tests requested by police. These tests are voluntary, and can be refused. There are a number of external factors which could result in “failing” the test, even if the driver is not intoxicated. This could include darkness, the presence of flashing lights, passing cars, health conditions, roadside conditions, footwear and medications.
Law Enforcement Training
Law enforcement officers with the Georgia State Patrol and Atlanta Police Department are trained in how to properly conduct standardized field sobriety tests. The receive formal training through accredited training programs created in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In order for the results of these tests to be reliable, the officers have to follow a specific set of instructions. However, just because an officer was properly trained in SFSTs, does not mean that they correctly administer the test.
Georgia DUI Defense
If you have been charged with driving under the influence in Atlanta, you need the knowledge and courtroom experience of a qualified DUI lawyer who understands SFSTs. Whether or not you did any field sobriety tests before arrest, you need a lawyer who knows the training and science behind these tests. I have completed the same NHTSA training courses as the police, and am now certified as an instructor to teach the police how to administer these tests. I will use this training and knowledge to find the mistakes the police made, and keep your driving record clean. Call me today.