Burke Levy, P.C.

The sobering facts about traffic stop field tests

Nothing ruins a nice evening out more than getting pulled over by Massachusetts police on your way home. If you're lucky, you might get away with a warning from the officer to slow down; if you're not so lucky, you might hear six words most motorists dread: Please step out of the vehicle. That's typically a real game changer, especially if you consumed alcohol at some point earlier on. If your next moments are comprised of field sobriety tests, you might be in for more trouble.

While just the thought of this may be enough to make your blood pressure soar, in reality, it's not necessarily a reason to panic. Many people have faced similar situations where they were charged with alcohol-related crimes but were able to mitigate their circumstances because they knew ahead of time right where to turn for help.

Three tests you want to pass

Some people refuse to submit to officers' requests for field sobriety tests. If you don't plan on being one of them, there are a few things to know about such tests that may help you in your hour of need. The following list includes basic descriptions of each test and what a police officer may be looking for as you perform the tasks he or she requests:

  • The one-leg stand test is self-explanatory. A police officer asking you to stand on one leg is going to be checking for balance and coordination, both of which tend to get out of whack if you consume too much alcohol.
  • The walk-and-turn test also checks balance and coordination. A police officer may ask you to hold your arms out at shoulder length and walk, placing the heel of one foot in front of the toes of your other foot along a straight path for a certain distance.
  • If you take a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the officer conducting the test is most likely checking the involuntary jerking movements of your eyes. If someone is intoxicated, these movements usually become exaggerated.

In all of the above-listed tests, a police officer is usually also checking your ability to concentrate and follow simple directions. If you fail one or all of these tests, you are bound to face several significant challenges in your near future. Test failure may prompt a police officer to charge you with drunk driving, in which case you'll have an opportunity to fight the charges in court.

There's no evidence showing a drunk person performs FSTs any better or worse than a sober person. In some situations, video evidence has been used to challenge false FST results. Most Massachusetts residents who are able to overcome drunk driving charges credit the type of representation they secured before heading to court for increasing their chances of avoiding conviction.

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