Understanding Field Sobriety Tests: How to Defend Your Rights During a Traffic Stop


Few situations are as anxiety-inducing as being pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) often play a pivotal role in such scenarios, becoming a critical factor in determining an individual’s sobriety. To safeguard your rights during a traffic stop and build a strong DUI defense when faced with a drunk driving charge, drivers need a comprehensive understanding of field sobriety tests and their purpose and limitations.

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests are standard procedures employed by law enforcement to assess a person’s impairment due to alcohol or drugs during a traffic stop. These tests aim to gauge a person’s physical and cognitive abilities, providing officers with grounds to determine if further testing, such as a breathalyzer or blood test, is warranted.

Common Types of Field Sobriety Tests

The Walk and Turn Test

One of the most common FSTs is the Walk and Turn test, where the individual is instructed to take a specified number of steps in a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. The test aims to assess a person’s ability to follow instructions and maintain balance.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

The HGN test involves tracking an object with your eyes as it moves horizontally. Law enforcement officers look for involuntary eye movements, known as nystagmus, which may be indicative of impairment. Understanding the nuances of this test is crucial for a strategic defense.

One-Leg Stand Test

Balancing on one leg while counting aloud is the crux of the One-Leg Stand test. Similar to other FSTs, it evaluates both physical coordination and the ability to follow instructions. Challenges with this test can arise due to various factors, making a detailed defense strategy essential.


Protecting Your Rights: What to Do During Field Sobriety Tests


When confronted with a Field Sobriety Test, it’s crucial to remember that you have rights. Understanding the nuances of these assessments and their legal consequences is pivotal in defending yourself against unjust accusations and challenging the validity of these tests in a court of law.

Know Your Rights

Understanding your rights is a fundamental aspect of any encounter with law enforcement. While law enforcement officers may request that you perform FSTs, you have the right to refuse them. However, it’s essential to do so respectfully and without aggression, as refusing the tests may lead to other consequences, such as arrest or license suspension. Knowing when and how to assert your rights can significantly impact the outcome of your case.

Remain Calm and Composed

Maintaining composure during FSTs is vital. Anxiety and nervousness can impact your performance, potentially leading to misinterpretations by law enforcement. Stay calm and focused, and follow instructions carefully. Moreover, even if you choose to decline field sobriety tests, doing so calmly and respectfully can impact how law enforcement perceives your actions.

Document the Circumstances

If you find yourself subjected to FSTs, document the circumstances to the best of your ability. Field sobriety tests are not foolproof, and various factors can influence results.  Note the weather conditions, road surface, and any other relevant factors that may have influenced your performance. Such details can become crucial elements in building a strong defense.

The Importance of Legal Representation in a DUI Case


When faced with the complexities of defending your rights after undergoing FSTs, seeking legal representation becomes paramount. The prosecution may use your field sobriety test results as evidence in court, but a skilled defense attorney can challenge the validity of the tests based on factors such as improper administration, lack of standardization, or the defendant’s physical condition. They can also assess the circumstances surrounding your case, including the administration of FSTs, to build a robust defense strategy.


Facing charges of DUI based on Field Sobriety Test results can be a daunting experience, but keep in mind that the results are not infallible; you have a chance to change the court’s perception of your case. By understanding the purpose, limitations, and legal implications of FSTs, you increase your chances of a fair and just resolution. Consult with a qualified attorney to ensure you navigate the legal system effectively and protect your rights in the face of DUI allegations.




About the Author


Victoria Brown currently works as the Marketing and Communications Specialist at Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan. Her experiences with DUI cases in the past have inspired her to spread awareness about DUI laws in the United States.