Understanding Field Sobriety Tests In Massachusetts

| Jul 22, 2020 | Blog

If you ever get pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, chances are good that a police officer will ask you to perform a series of coordination tests known as field sobriety tests (FSTs). Although there are a number of FSTs that can be used, three are endorsed by the National Highway Safety Administration, and are therefore standard throughout the country.

The three most common FSTs include:

  • The one-leg stand
  • The walk-and-turn (walking a straight line heel to toe, turning and coming back again)
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (following a moving object with your eyes while the officer observes your eye movement)

The NHTSA says these tests are backed by research showing that they are reliable indicators of impairment in tests subjects. That being said, they are by no means perfect, and there are numerous reasons why a sober person could fail.

Challenging the Results

Field sobriety tests aren’t really used to sort drunk drivers from sober drivers – not primarily, anyway. Rather, they are meant to give a police officer enough evidence of impairment to justify asking for more tests (like a roadside breathalyzer test). The results of an FST are subjectively interpreted by the officer, who may be acting on his own hunch that the person he pulled over is drunk.

Thankfully, FSTs are now commonly recorded on police car dashcams and bodycams, which means that the video could be independently reviewed later. If you believe that the field sobriety testing was administered or interpreted improperly, we may be able to challenge the evidence by reviewing footage. Here are some common reasons/defenses for “failing” and FST:

  • You had a hard time hearing and seeing what was being asked because you were on the side of a busy highway at night
  • You have medical problems that impact your balance and coordination for certain tasks
  • You were nervous
  • You performed fine on the tests but the officer still claimed that you failed (this could be rebutted using video footage)
  • The officer improperly administered the tests or gave vague, unclear instructions

In Massachusetts, you do have the right to refuse to take these tests, and refusal cannot be used against you. However, if you do take them and fail, a good defense lawyer may still be able to challenge the test results in the ways mentioned above.

If you’ve been arrested for OUI and are now facing charges, please don’t wait to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The sooner you call, the more time there will be to contest the evidence and allegations against you.