What to Know about DUI Field Sobriety Tests in RI

Field sobriety tests are used by law enforcement officials, including highway patrolling state troopers and local municipal police departments, to establish if a driving motorist is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most typically, a field sobriety check is given during a traffic stop. If you or a loved one have been subjected to a field sobriety test and are fighting a driving under the influence charge, call an experienced
Rhode Island DUI attorney who can file help you fight your Rhode Island DUI charge.

What To Know About DUI Field Sobriety Tests In Rhode Island

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

There are three field sobriety tests that have been standardized for law enforcement. The standardized tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn, and the one leg stand.

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: In the HGN test, the officer monitors the eyes of a motorist, as he or she follows a gradually moving pen or flashlight with a side-to-side motion with his eyes. The officer is looking to see if the eye does not easily follow the object or if the eyeball is jerking when moving side-to-side. This is one of the most commonly administered type of field sobriety test. Many Rhode Island Judges will not admit the results of this test, because it relies on a medical theory that nystagmus is indicative of intoxication; when in fact, nystagmus can be caused by a host of other conditions, such as concussion, fatigue or other medical disorders. Rarely if ever do the prosecutors have a witness available with the requisite medical qualifications to lay the medical evidentiary foundation for this test.  Ironically, this test is the least likely to be admitted into evidence, and yet with the proper medical foundation, it would constitute the most reliable of the 3 tests.  You should not submit to this test, as it is completely within the police officers’ discretion in terms of passage or failure.  Also, the police are looking for swaying and the odor of alcohol during this test, as the officer is in close proximity to your person.  There is no penalty for refusing this test at the request of law enforcement, and as a general matter, it should be refused.

  • Walk-And-Turn Test: The motorist is told by an officer to take nine steps, touching heel-to-toe, along a straight line, usually a lane line. After following those instructions, the motorist must turn on one foot and complete the same walk back to his original location. The officer looks for any imbalance, instability, or inability to turn or walk as factors to suspect the motorist is impaired.  Of course, this is a subjective determination with respect to the officer’s evaluation of your performance. There is no penalty in Rhode Island for refusing this test.  A motorist could walk the line perfectly straight and still fail the test if the officer feels that the motorist raised their hands for balance, missed heel to toe, made an improper turn or failed to balance during the instructions.  Quite frankly, these clues are too easy for an officer with an interest in the outcome of the case to articulate, especially in close call scenarios.  Therefore, if you submit to this test, you are likely providing evidence that would otherwise not exist, and refusing this test is almost always the best option.

  • One-Leg Stand Test: The motorist is told to stand with one foot off the ground and count aloud by ones beginning with one thousand until the officer is satisfied. The officer looks for any inabilities to remain balance or standing upright, along with difficulties to count.  Once again here, a motorist could be able to stand on one leg for more than 30 seconds and still fail the test if they hop, sway or fail to keep their opposite foot at a proper height.  This test is too difficult for sober motorists, let alone those that have consumed alcohol.  There is no penalty for refusing this test, and it places too much faith in your own physical agility and the officers’ ability to remain objective as they evaluate you. It is important also to remember that the motorist is being asked to pay attention to the instructions as they are attempting to perform the test, which is known as a divided attention test; however, it is a test that is too difficult when you are confused or nervous, which most will be when pulled over and investigated.

Should I Refuse To Submit To A Field Sobriety Test?

In Rhode Island, it is important to know that a motorist may decline to submit to a field sobriety test. The police can still arrest a motorist without the performance of field sobriety tests if there is still suspicion of a motorist driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but, by refusing to take a field sobriety test, that decision cannot be used against you. This is very much unlike the chemical test, where choosing to refuse to submit could have serious legal consequences, including additional jail time or fines. Therefore, in most cases involving a police officer asking the motorist to submit to a field sobriety test, a courteous refusal to such test may be appropriate and intelligent.

It is also important to know that the field sobriety tests are highly subjective, meaning in the discretion of the officer or administrating person, and the outcome is based solely on the determination of the "clues" which point to or away from alcohol intoxication. The main reason for using field sobriety tests is to provide police officers with greater probable cause to arrest a driver for drunk driving. Why would a motorist agree to provide evidence against themselves when the burden to prove these cases rests solely on the government?  Most people think that they will benefit somehow if they are cooperative and do everything they are told to do; however, to the contrary, I can say from experience that this is not true in the vast majority of cases.

Contact a Knowledgeable Rhode Island DUI Lawyer

Have you or someone you know been pulled by the police on suspicion of a DUI? It is important you contact the office of Kevin O. Hagan, then, at 105 Memorial Blvd. West, Newport, RI 02840. Kevin O. Hagan is a former RI state prosecutor who will use his knowledge and experience pertaining to drunk driving cases to win for you. Kevin has made meaningful connections in the Rhode Island legal community and has over 15 years of practice. From the moment Kevin takes your case it becomes his priority.

Please contact Attorney Kevin O. Hagan at 401-619-0477 or 401-487-8691 to speak about your case today.

Disclaimer: Every case is different. This blog should not be referenced as legal advice, but rather as general information. If you or a loved one faces a DUI in Rhode Island contact Kevin Hagan directly for a free consultation.