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DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Michigan

Designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), standardized field sobriety tests are often used by law enforcement agents at a DUI stop to determine if an arrest should be made. Michigan police officers may use the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus tests to decide if there is probable cause for a drunk driving arrest. Both the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn tests are known as divided attention tests, which means that they measure both your physical performance and ability to understand and follow instructions.

Purpose of Field Sobriety Tests

Police officers often use field sobriety tests to determine a person’s level of intoxication. You may be asked to perform simple exercises such as balancing on one leg or walking an imaginary line, and then turning in the opposite direction. In some cases, the officer may even ask you to recite the alphabet or complete basic math problems.

The officer may also administer an additional field sobriety test known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus. For this evaluation, the officer will ask you to follow an object, such as a pen or finger, with your eyes. He or she watch closely to see if you can easily follow the object’s movement.

After completing the field sobriety tests, the police officer will evaluate your performance to determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If he or she believes you are intoxicated, you will be arrested and charged with OWI.

Sobriety Test Refusal

Contrary to what you may have heard, you are not legally required to comply with an officer’s request to administer a field sobriety test. In fact, due to the subjective nature of the results, you should politely refuse any type of field sobriety test.

Although many studies have proven that field sobriety tests are extremely unreliable, they are still frequently used to determine a person’s level of intoxication. In many cases, however, the results of these tests are inadmissible in court, as the officer may be unable to prove reasonable cause for the arrest.

One-Leg Stand Test

The one-leg stand test consists of an instruction and performance stage. During the instruction phase, the officer will ask you to stand with your feet together and arms at your side while he or she explains and demonstrates how you should perform the test. After confirming that you understand the directions, you will be instructed to stand on one leg while raising the other six inches off the ground and counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand, and so on until asked to stop.

The officer will look for four clues during the test:

  • using your arms to maintain balance
  • swaying
  • hopping
  • putting your foot down before the test is over

If you exhibit two out of four clues, you can be arrested for OWI.

Walk-and-Turn Test

The walk-and-turn test also includes an instruction and performance stage. To perform this test, you will be asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps on an imaginary line, pivot, and then take nine steps back while counting each step aloud. There are eight clues for this test, which include:

  • inability to balance during instructions
  • starting too soon
  • stopping while walking
  • failing to touch heel to toe
  • stepping off of the line
  • using arms for balance
  • turning incorrectly
  • taking the wrong number of steps

If the officer sees two of these clues, you may meet the criteria for arrest.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures the jerking of your eyes, which become more pronounced when a person is intoxicated. To administer the test, an officer will ask you to keep your head still and follow a small stimulus with your eyes. The officer will look for a lack of smooth pursuit, distinct jerking while your eyes are at maximum deviation and the onset of jerking before your eyes reach 45 degrees. If you exhibit these clues in either of your eyes, the officer can place you under arrest.

Nystagmus can be an indicator of alcohol or drug impairment, although it is also associated with several medical conditions, including:

  • The flu
  • Glaucoma
  • Eye strain
  • Heredity

Other legal substances, such as aspirin and caffeine, can also cause nystagmus. Additionally, a small percentage of people have naturally occurring nystagmus.

Standardized Versus Non-Standardized Tests

Standard field sobriety tests are standardized, which means there is one way to instruct, one way to demonstrate, one way to score, and one way to perform. The standardized method is to ensure reliability and accuracy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration implemented these tests based upon studies concluding reliability or correlation of subjects under the influence or impairment of alcohol, and the number of clues associated with the particular test.

If an officer deviates from standardized instruction or demonstration or the scoring, it compromises the reliability of the conclusion. We, our attorneys at the Barone Defense Firm, have all completed the same training for standard field sobriety tests that officers receive, and we know exactly how it’s supposed to be done.

Now if we contrast that with other common field tests, the significant difference is reliability. ABCs, the counting test, finger-to-nose have absolutely no scientific and no correlation to impairment of alcohol. They have, however, been used by law enforcement for so long that it continues today, almost by tradition versus any scientific reliability.

Contacting a OWI Lawyer

If you were charged with OWI after completing a field sobriety test, you may assume you will be convicted. Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth. An experienced attorney may be able to prove your field sobriety test results are inaccurate, and in turn, prevent them from being used against you in court.

Attorney Patrick T. Barone knows the ins and outs of Michigan OWI law, and can use his knowledge to determine the best defense for your case. As a certified field sobriety test instructor, Mr. Barone has received the same training as Michigan police officers and, as a result, is highly familiar with the tactics they use. Put his experience and legal know-how to work for you. Contact the Barone Defense Firm for a free consultation on your case.