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What You Need to Know About Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in North Carolina

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in DUI/DWI on Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Keys on a Bar Surrounded by Drinks

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are a series of tests a law enforcement officer will ask to perform if they suspect you of driving while intoxicated (DWI), after stopping your car. Whether or not you’re instructed to pull over depends on how your driving appears to the officer, or whether the officer observed you committing any traffic violations. If based on your performance during the SFST the officer suspects you’re intoxicated, the officer will request that you submit to a chemical test.

The chemical test most commonly takes the form of a breathalyzer, but this may also take the form of a urine or blood test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published the training manuals and recommended guidelines for officers to administer SFSTs. This means that while there are a number of ways an officer may test your level of impairment, you can generally expect a series of three tests: the One Leg Stand test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, and the Walk and Turn test.

Speaking to a knowledgeable Charlotte DWI attorney can help ease any anxieties you have about your performance on SFSTs, as it relates to your DWI charge. Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys can assist you with any DWI issues you may be facing. With the pressure you may face following an arrest, you’ll want someone with extensive legal knowledge protecting your interests.

Schedule a free, confidential consultation today with a lawyer at our firm today. Call us at (980) 237-4579, or reach out through our online form.

An Officer Is Gathering Evidence of Your Impairment Before You’re Pulled Over

The purpose of SFSTs is to give the officer additional opportunities to observe your level of intoxication. They are trying to determine whether your appearance suggests you’re intoxicated beyond the legal driving limit, which is .08 percent. This period of observation begins the moment the officer lays eyes on your car and long before you get out of the car. If the officer believes you look intoxicated while you’re driving, they will use the results of an SFST to confirm their opinion and make an arrest. According to the NHTSA, this confirmation through Standardized Field Sobriety Tests should be a combination of three specific tests:

The One Leg Stand Test
During the one leg stand test, you will be asked to stand and balance on one of your legs. While doing so, the officer will ask you to count in a prescribed manner and perform the test until you are told to stop. While you are on one leg, the officer will look for signs that you’re intoxicated, including:

  • Having to put your foot down to maintain your balance
  • Swaying
  • Lifting your arms to keep your balance
  • Hopping in order to keep your balance

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
During the HGN test, you will have to focus your eyes on something small, such as a pen or the officer’s finger, as the officer moves it through your field of vision. The officer will be looking for nystagmus, which is the involuntary jerking of the eyes, as you follow the stimulus the officer moves through your field of vision. The best way to think of this is turning your windshield wipers on while your windshield is dry. If this specific movement occurs when your vision is closer to centered, or if it is quicker than normal, it signals your blood alcohol content (BAC) may be over the legal limit.

The Walk and Turn Test
During the walk and turn test, among other directions, you will be asked to walk heel to toe in a straight line for a specific number of steps, turn in a specific manner and walk back. The officer will be watching to see if you exhibit any signs of intoxication, such as:

  • Inability to maintain the instruction position
  • Starting the test too soon
  • Stopping during the middle of the test
  • Missing heel to toe
  • Stepping off the line
  • Using your arms to balance
  • Taking the incorrect number of steps
  • Doing the turn improperly

Can You Refuse to Take Field Sobriety Tests in NC?

Under North Carolina law, you can refuse to take any or all of the SFSTs with no legal consequences. Refusal to take a field sobriety test cannot be used as evidence against you in court. However, North Carolina follows an implied consent law in regard to chemical testing. By driving in the state, you’ve giving consent to undergo such testing. This means that if you refuse to take a test that examines chemical analysis of your BAC, there will be legal consequences, including the automatic suspension of your North Carolina driving privileges for 12 months.

Do You Have Questions About Field Sobriety Tests in North Carolina? Call Us Today

There are arguments you can make to defend yourself against poor performance on Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. A skilled DWI attorney will know which of these defenses could apply to your case. In the Charlotte area, Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys will vigorously defend your DWI case from the beginning of the process. Schedule your free, confidential consultation and speak with one of our attorneys about any of your concerns regarding your DWI charge and your performance on Standardized Field Sobriety Tests today. We can be reached online, or by calling (980) 237-4579.