How to Pass Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Motorist trying to walk a straight line while a police officer looks on.If you have not been subject to standardized field sobriety tests after being stopped and detained for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, you have probably seen someone else on the side of the road performing them. Standardized field sobriety tests – often abbreviated as SFSTs or SFTs – are a feature of nearly every Arizona driving under the influence (DUI) investigation. Officers investigating drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol will administer one or more of the following tests: the “walk-and-turn” test, the “one-legged stand” test, and/or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN). In fact, there are only three circumstances under which no SFSTs are completed:

  • Where the allegedly-drunk driver is unconscious or seriously injured and is physically incapable of performing the tests;
  • Where the allegedly-drunk driver has a preexisting medical condition (such as a knee or hip injury) that makes it dangerous or painful for the driver to perform the tests; and/or
  • Where the allegedly-drunk driver refuses to perform any of the tests requested by the officer.

There is no doubt that the results of the SFTs are important to the officer’s decision of whether to arrest the driver and is often crucial evidence used against the driver at trial to convict him or her of driving under the influence. So the question becomes, “What does a driver need to do in order to pass the SFSTs?”

A Trick Question: There is No “Pass” or “Fail”

The title of this blog and the question posed above are both misleading: there is no way a driver can “pass” – or “fail” – the SFST tests. That is, arrests have been upheld and drivers convicted of DUI even where they do well on the SFSTs, and other drivers who have appeared to do poorly have been acquitted of DUI charges. Instead, the driver’s performance on SFSTs can serve as evidence that either corroborates or contradicts other observations the officer makes of the driver that might suggest intoxication.

Officers are trained to look for certain “clues” during each SFST. The presence of many or all of the clues suggests intoxication and can support an arrest for DUI, but there is no “correlation” between the number of clues or the presence of any one clue and the likelihood that a driver has a particular alcohol concentration. Notwithstanding this, even the presence of one clue can support an arrest for DUI if there is other corroborating evidence.

So What Should I Do During the SFSTs?

SFSTs can be difficult for sober individuals to complete without demonstrating one clue: in the field, where the wind may be high, the driver may be nervous, and/or other traffic may be speeding by, it can be downright impossible to complete any one test without demonstrating any clues. Drivers asked to perform SFSTs should focus on performing each test to the best of their abilities and avoiding these common mistakes:

  • Do not start any test before the officer tells you to begin (this is a “clue”);
  • Listen very carefully to the officer’s instructions and do exactly as he or she says. Not following instructions is a “clue”;
  • Once you start the test, do not stop unless you absolutely must. Do not stop if you feel you made a mistake. You cannot start a test over in most cases, and stopping a test before the officer tells you to stop can be considered a “clue”;
  • Tell the officer if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult for you to walk or balance.

Speak with an Arizona DUI attorney as soon as possible after your arrest for DUI. Your attorney can review the evidence of intoxication the officer allegedly had at the time of arrest, including your performance on the field sobriety tests. Where this evidence is lacking, your attorney may be able to have your charges reduced or dismissed.