Georgia DUI Field Sobriety Tests: A Quick Explanation

Posted by William H. Sherman on Oct 24, 2021 | 0 Comments

As COVID-19 restrictions have eased and people want desperately to get back to their “normal lives,” we are seeing DUI charges on the rise in the Atlanta metro area. Police departments are making a lot of DUI arrests. If you are stopped and suspected of driving under the influence, the officer will ask that you to complete a few roadside sobriety tests in an attempt to help determine if you are DUI.

FST's (Field Sobriety Tests) are voluntary tests that officers use to determine if you are under the influence of drugs/alcohol and, under Georgia law, a less safe driver. Remember, under Georgia DUI law, you don't have to be “drunk” or “buzzed” or anything else to be charged with DUI. The legal question is: are you a less safe driver?

Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Mandatory:

These tests, however, are NOT mandatory, meaning, if the officer asks you to submit to the field tests, you can refuse. These are separate tests and not to be confused with the blood/breath testing required under Georgia implied consent.

They Are Performed Nationwide:

Developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency, filed sobriety tests are performed nationwide by law enforcement. The most commonly used tests are the one-leg-stand, walk & turn, and HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus).

One-Leg-Stand:

This test is as simple as it sounds. The office will instruct the driver to stand with one leg raised above the ground. The officer will be looking for the driver to sway or lose balance. If the driver sways or loses balance, the police officer could charge the driver with DUI. And the officer will try to find “clues” as to intoxication and “grade” the driver.

There are problems with this test. As you can imagine, many people suffer from back, hip, neck, knee or leg problems that could affect their balance. Not to mention other factors that could impact the test such as being overweight, poorly made or not-properly-fitting shoes or sneakers, or medical conditions.

Walk & Turn:

Similarly to the one-leg-stand, the Walk & Turn requires the driver to take 9 steps, heel to toe, turn, and repeat 9 steps back. The driver must keep their balance and avoid using their arms for balance. This test, like the others, makes the assumption that the driver does not have any physical ailments or restrictions that could impact the results of the test. Even poorly fitting shoes or garments can cause a person to do poorly on this test.

The walk and turn test, like the others, is extremely subjective and relies heavily on the officer's discretion.

HGN:

This is the “eye test.” Published NHTSA studies claim that the HGN test has a 77 percent accuracy rate in detecting blood alcohol concentrations of .10 percent or higher (.08 and higher is the per se blood-alcohol concentration in Georgia). The HGN test is often considered by researchers to be the most accurate field sobriety test and they claim it is the least subjective.

Nystagmus refers to the involuntary jerking motion that a person's eyes make at certain angles. Nystagmus is known to occur when an individual has an inner ear irregularity or a problem or condition that that affects his or her eyeball control. Horizontal gaze nystagmus occurs when a person looks to the side. Vertical gaze nystagmus, by contrast, refers to nystagmus occurring when the test taker looks up or down.

Of course, the police officer is seeking clues to alcohol consumption or the use of drugs that depress the central nervous system. As a person consumes more alcohol or drugs, he or she will exhibit more clearly pronounced nystagmus when tested.

The Problem with Field Sobriety Tests:

As local DUI lawyers, we believe that completing the Field Sobriety Tests puts you at an unfair disadvantage. While Georgia courts allow Field Sobriety Tests to be admitted into evidence, many research studies have stated that these tests are not scientifically proven and have too many variables to be reliable. Since the tests are voluntary, we recommend to respectfully decline to complete the roadside field sobriety tests.

If you have been charged with a DUI, you need to act quickly to retain an attorney. There are many deadlines that can seriously impact your driving privileges and overall defense. Call DUI attorneys Bill Sherman and Valerie Sherman today – 678-215-4106.

About the Author

William H. Sherman

With a professional background that includes serving as a Senior Assistant County Attorney and as an Assistant Attorney General, attorney William H. Sherman has great experience, a broad range of legal knowledge and a proven record of success.  Each of Mr. Sherman's clients gets the full benefit of his experience.  Because attorney Sherman has worked for governmental organizations, large corporations and clerked for a judge, he has handled a wide variety of cases from negotiation and trial to successful appeal. Mr. Sherman is very proud of his reputation as a problem-solver who is always available to his clients.  Active in the community, Mr. Sherman and his wife, attorney Valerie Sherman, support many community organizations, sports teams and charities.  Call him now and let his experience work for you.

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