Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are important in a DUI arrest. Although they are not fail-proof, they are considered one of the best ways to check impairment. A DUI attorney Rochester can help you understand your rights and whether or not you need to take an FST if pulled over for a DUI.

Understanding how FSTs Work

In Monroe County, DUI arrests have either two or three components. First, there is the initial stop. This step usually involves a traffic violation or a DUI roadblock detention. Second, there is a DUI investigation. This step always involves the three approved field sobriety tests outlined below. [1] Third, there is a chemical test. Most defendants agree to provide a breath or blood sample.

So, FSTs play a critical role in this process. They either serve as probable cause for the chemical sample request or, if the defendant refuses to provide the sample, they serve as evidence at trial. Prosecutors must somehow use the field sobriety tests to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

As such, challenging the FST results is an important component of a defense strategy from a DUI attorney Rochester. Officers invariably testify that the defendant “failed” the FSTs. But the jury also reviews and grades the defendant’s performance.

Unapproved Tests

It is important to understand that not all tests given at DUI stop are helpful to take. Before we discuss the approved FSTs, we should look at some unapproved tests, such as the Romberg balance test (eyes closed, head back, and arms extended test).

Since this test is not part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s three-test battery, it has essentially no scientific credibility. As such, a DUI attorney Rochester can usually exclude the test results.

Sometimes, however, it is better to cross-examine the administering officer. Romberg’s balance test deprives the defendant of proprioception (knowing one’s body position in space), vestibulation (knowing the position of one’s head), and vision. Many officers are unfamiliar with these terms. If they cannot adequately convey their meaning to jurors, which is a distinct possibility, jurors often suspect that the state is trying to railroad the defendant.

Other unapproved FSTs include reciting the ABCs, counting backward, and answering trick questions.

DUI Attorney Rochester and Approved FSTs

Many officers know unapproved tests might not be admissible in court. Yet they force defendants to do them anyway. They wear out the defendant mentally and physically, so the defendant does worse on the tests that count.

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Most people have undergone an HGN test. Subjects must track moving objects by moving their eyes and keeping their heads still. If the subject’s pupil moves involuntarily at certain viewing angles, the subject probably has nystagmus. The problem here is that alcohol is not the only cause of nystagmus. In fact, it is not even the leading cause.
  • One Leg Stand: The defendant must stand on one leg for about fifteen seconds, without swaying or using arms for balance. Frequently, officers declare that the defendant failed this test because of a technicality, like elevating the wrong leg or holding it at the wrong angle.
  • Heel to Toe Walk: This test, which is also called the walk and turn, is a lot like the one-leg stand. Subjects must walk a straight line heel to toe without using their arms for balance or swaying. Test conditions often affect the outcome. For example, it is much harder to walk an imaginary line than an actual line, like a parking lot stripe.

Many people do not know that thanks to the Fifth Amendment, they can refuse to perform these tests. Most likely, that refusal will lead to an immediate arrest, but an arrest was probably inevitable at this point. If there are no field test results, there is generally no evidence that establishes probable cause for the arrest, and the state’s case could collapse like a house of cards.

Reach Out to a Diligent Attorney

The FSTs are often critical evidence in a drunk driving prosecution. For a free consultation with an experienced DUI attorney Rochester, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi.



The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

Ready to Take Charge of Your Case?

Call Today (585) 232-6830

The Law Office of Frank Ciardi - Rochester & Buffalo Criminal Defense Attorney

Call Us

Request a Free Consultation

    Visit Us

    45 Exchange Blvd Suite 400,
    Rochester, NY 14614
    View Map

    Follow Us