Some of our readers in Wisconsin may have heard news reports over the recent St. Patrick's Day holiday about increased law enforcement patrols focused on finding drunk drivers. These types of surges in patrols are common around many holidays, and our readers will likely hear more about them this summer as Independence Day approaches. In any given traffic stop where a law enforcement officer suspects a driver of operating under the influence of alcohol, one or more field sobriety tests may be administered. There are three particular tests that are highly utilized.
First, there is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Our readers would recognize this test as the one where a law enforcement officer holds a pen or some other small object in front of the driver's face and asks the driver to follow the object with their eyes as the object is moved side-to-side. Some people may think that the officer is simply looking to see if the person is sober enough to follow the object, but what they are actually looking for is involuntary jerking in the eyeball that can be a sign of intoxication.
Next, there is the walk and turn test. In this test, the law enforcement officer will ask the suspect to take a certain number of steps in a straight line, with the suspect touching heel to toe as they "walk the line." During this test the officer will be observing the suspect's balance and ability to pay attention to the instructions that the officer is giving.
Lastly, there is the one-leg stand test. This test also involves a test of balance, as the officer will ask the suspect to stand on one leg only for about 30 seconds. Any swaying or hopping or putting the foot down may be a sign of intoxication.
Though these tests may be a legitimate way for law enforcement to spot drunk drivers, they can also encroach on an individual's legal rights and freedom. Specifically, if these tests are improperly administered, then their results may be disallowed from being used against an individual in court. Those who have been subjected to drunk driving criminal charges may thus want to discuss the matter with their attorney to see if it presents a defense option.
Source: AAA DUI Justice Link, "Standard Field Sobriety Test," Accessed March 20, 2016