If the police have reasonable grounds to believe you were driving while intoxicated, they will pull you over and ask you to submit to field sobriety tests. If you fail the field sobriety tests, then you will likely be arrested and asked to take a breathalyzer test. In Tennessee, drivers give their implied consent to the breathalyzer test. However, you may refuse to take the field sobriety tests, but they will also try to use your refusal against you if they charge you with driving under the influence (DUI).
There are factual and legal defenses that experienced DUI lawyers do assert. The police can’t stop you just because they think you’re young, or they think your model of car gives them a reason to stop you. Police need firm reasons, such as seeing you speed, run through a red light, swerve, or other traffic infractions that indicate you might be driving while drunk.
As a general rule, when police give you these field sobriety tests, they’re looking to see if there is reason to believe you might be impaired. The following three tests have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Tests other than these three, such as being asked to count backwards from 100 or recite portions of the alphabet, are not actual standardized test and an aggressive lawyer may challenge their admissibility in a DUI hearing.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
This test, commonly called an HGN test, is an eye test. The law enforcement officer will ask you to follow an object such as pen or finger while he/she moves the object from side to side. The officer is looking to see if your eyes “jump” or “twitch” during the test. (A nystagmus is just a formal name for the jump or twitch of your eye.)
Officers need to conduct this test where they can see your eye movement. If it’s dark, they will normally use a flashlight or move you to a place where there’s light. Normally, the officer should ask you to remove your eyeglasses, if you wear them. Generally, Tennessee courts have deemed that the HGN test is inadmissible because the test requires expert testimony from a medical professional to interpret.
The walk and turn test
Here, the officer asks drivers to walk heel-to-toe nine steps in a straight line. You then turn on one foot and walk nine steps back. The police officer is looking for the following indicators you may be intoxicated:
- You can’t keep your balance during the walk
- You need to stop while walking
- You can’t walk heel-to-toe
- You don’t walk in a straight line
- You need to use your arms to keep your balance
- You don’t turn correctly
- You don’t take exactly nine steps
This test examines both your physical abilities and your mental abilities.
The one-leg stand test
This is usually the third test given. You are asked to raise one foot at least six inches off the ground and count to 30 with your arms at your side. If you lose your balance, flap your arms, hop, fail to count correctly, etc., then the officer will conclude that you failed this field sobriety test.
Most field sobriety tests are difficult for sober drivers. Sometimes, there are good reasons that you can’t pass the test that have nothing to do with being intoxicated. For example, you may be hard of hearing or may have a balance problem. It is important that the officer medically qualify a driver before subjecting him or her to these tests.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our Sevierville DUI defense attorneys assert every possible defense on your behalf. We challenge the right of police officers to stop you and we contest the way they gave you any field sobriety tests. We work to suppress the evidence and to negotiate plea agreements for less serious charges such as minor traffic infractions. We’re also ready to seek an acquittal in court. We represent drivers in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding Tennessee locations. To speak with a strong advocate, call (865) 428-8780 or use our contact form to make an appointment.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.