It is a familiar image – a North Dakota police officer on the side of the road watching a driver complete a field sobriety test. The results of these tests are often instrumental in the filing of drunk driving charges, but how accurate are they really? Unlike other forms of testing, field sobriety tests are highly subjective and up to individual officer's discretion.
A field sobriety test is actually comprised of three different physical tests. Drivers believed to be under the influence will be asked to perform a horizontal gaze test, walk a certain distance then turn back, and stand on one leg for a period of time. Officers use these tests to observe the balance, physical control and concentration of drivers. A good idea in theory, but less so in practice.
Officers routinely deviate from guidelines set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when administering these tests. Some even ask drivers to perform different, unstandardized tests, such as reciting the alphabet backwards. Attending officers may also be unaware of mental or physical conditions that prevent drivers from performing tasks as requested, and drivers who try to inform them of their injuries may be perceived as attempting to hide their intoxication.
Field sobriety tests can heavily impact a drunk driving charge, and you can challenge the results. This is especially important if you believe that the arresting officer acted outside of NHTSA standards or ignored your attempts to inform him or her of an existing injury. Successfully challenging a field sobriety test can be complicated though, so most defendants choose to consult with an attorney who is experienced in North Dakota criminal law before moving forward with the matter.