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Field Sobriety Tests In Massachusetts

Standing on one leg and being asked to walk abnormally can be a difficult task to perform in your living room; never mind on the side of the road, late at night, with a police car’s blue lights flashing, cars and trucks speeding by, and a uniformed police officer in your face. Your adrenaline is rushing, your heart is beating out of your chest, and you’re being told to perform these “tests” in an already nerve-racking and intimidating environment. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are exercises that the police use to determine if your ability to drive a car is impaired by alcohol. They are tasks that measure your balance and coordination, not your ability to use the gas pedal, brake or steering wheel. They are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests because they are administered and interpreted by the police in a standardized fashion—the same way every single time. They are given to people of varying ages, heights, weights, backgrounds and medical histories. Certainly it doesn’t stand to reason that someone who has a bad ankle and can’t stand on one leg for 30 seconds is any less capable of driving a car than someone who is perfectly healthy and can stand on one leg for as long as they want. It just doesn’t make sense, yet these “tests” are relied upon by law enforcement when deciding to arrest you for OUI.

Our firm practices 100% OUI Defense. We understand the significance of this charge and the impact it may have on your life.

Submit A Free Case Evaluation or call (508) 930-4273 to speak with Attorney Higgins.

There are three field sobriety tests that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have validated as being “standardized.”

They are the most commonly utilized tests by police officers in Massachusetts when conducting OUI investigations. The following is a summary of each test. It is intended to provide you with an understanding of how the tests are supposed to be administered and how they are supposed to be interpreted.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN)

Officer puts a pointer, pen, pencil, or some other stimulus 12-15 inches from your face. Officer then asks you to follow the stimulus with your eyes without turning your head as he moves it horizontally across your entire field of vision. As you do this, the officer looks to see how your eyes respond. Nystagmus—the involuntary jerking of your eyes from side to side—has been identified as an indicator of alcohol consumption, so the officer is looking to see if he can tell if you’ve been drinking.

NOTE: The HGN is generally not admissible in Massachusetts DUI/OUI cases.

Walk and Turn Test

(1) The Instructional Stage: Officer has you stand in a proscribed heel-to-toe position with your hands by your side. He will tell you to listen to his instructions and to not begin the test until told to do so.

(2) The Performance Stage: Officer will tell you to walk 9 heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, counting each step out loud while keeping your hands by your side. After nine steps, he will have you turn 180 degrees in a particular way and then have you take 9 more heel-to-toe steps back to the starting position. While you are doing this, the officer is looking for the following 8 clues of impairment:

• Cannot maintain balance during instructions
• Starts prior to being told to do so
• Stopping while walking
• Steps that are not heel-to-toe
• Stepping off line
• Using arms for balance
• Improper turn
• Wrong number of steps

If the officer observes just 2 of these clues, your performance will be considered a failure. Studies have shown this test to be 68 percent accurate in detecting persons with a BAC of .10 or greater.

One Leg Stand

(1) Instructional Stage: Officer will tell you stand with your feet together and your hands by your side. He will tell you to remain in this position until instructed to begin the test. While you are in this position, he will tell you that you are to raise the foot of your choice approximately 6-inches off the ground, keeping your leg straight, your toes pointed and your hand by your side. He will instruct you to maintain this position and count out loud to thirty.

(2) Performance Stage: Officer instructs you to being the test. While you are doing so, he is looking for the following four clues of impairment:

• Swaying
• Hopping
• Putting foot down
• Using your arms for balance

Studies have shown this test to be 65 percent accurate in detecting persons with a BAC of .10 or greater.

Our firm practices 100% OUI Defense. We understand the significance of this charge and the impact it may have on your life.

Submit A Free Case Evaluation or call (508) 930-4273 to speak with Attorney Higgins.

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Norwell, MA 02061

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North Andover, MA 01845

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Boston, MA 02108

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