Field Sobriety Tests Used by Michigan Law Enforcement

Criminal Law
Field Sobriety Tests Used by Michigan Law Enforcement

Field Sobriety Tests Used by Michigan Law Enforcement

by Justin Van Den Heuvel

Not all motorists exhibit signs of drunk driving impairment the same way, which creates challenges for law enforcement in charging individuals for Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) or Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in Michigan. For this reason, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a set of tests to help police establish probable cause and make key arrest decisions. The NHTSA identified three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) that tend to be accurate in determining whether a person is driving drunk, but there are some flaws that can have severe consequences for test subjects. Plus, many motorists do not understand their rights with regards to field sobriety tests. Talk to an experienced Michigan DUI/OWI attorney about options to defend a case based upon one of these SFSTs.

  1. One Leg Stand: While it sounds simple, the one leg stand is deceiving because it assesses both your performance and ability to follow directions. During the test, you must stand on one leg while holding the other six inches off the ground; then, an officer will instruct you to count to a designated number. You could be arrested for OWI if you:
    1. Sway or hop;
    2. Swing your arms to balance your body;
    3. Put your foot down before being told; or,
    4. Fail to properly count as instructed.
  2. Walk and Turn: An officer is testing your instruction and performance with the walk and turn test. You are directed to take a number of steps, heel-to-toe, down a straight line; then, you do the same to return to the start point. You must count the steps out loud while walking the line. Police may arrest you for drunk driving if you:
    1. Exhibit problems with balance;
    2. Start before being instructed;
    3. Stop while walking the line;
    4. Fail to make contact with heel and toe;
    5. Lose your balance when pivoting;
    6. Do not take the instructed number of steps; or,
    7. Steer off the imaginary line.
  3. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): This test does not require much effort in terms of performance because it assesses your body’s response to stimuli. The officer will instruct you to keep your head still while maintaining focus on an object, such as a pen. He or she will move the object in a horizontal motion and watch for your reactions. When you are intoxicated, your eyes will jerk irregularly when trying to follow the object. If your gaze is not smooth, you could be charged with drunk driving.

Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

You are not legally obligated to submit to SFSTs or other tests to assess your physical capabilities. The three exams described above are notorious for providing inaccurate results due to a subject’s medical condition, environmental factors, and other issues.

Trust a Michigan DUI/OWI Lawyer to Fight for Your Rights

If you were arrested for drunk driving based upon the results of a field sobriety test, you do have options to fight the charges. Please contact the Van Den Heuvel Law Office at 616-698-0000 or visit our website to schedule a consultation our Grand Rapids, MI office. We can review your case and determine the best strategy to defend your interests.



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