police officer giving horizontal gaze nystagmus testIn Florida, law enforcement officers use various field sobriety exercises to assess a driver's level of impairment when they suspect alcohol or drug intoxication. When you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI or at a DUI checkpoint, a field sobriety test is generally the first thing you will be asked to do. The officer is hoping to get evidence to charge you with a DUI.

However, interpreting a driver's performance on one of these tests is highly subjective. Since you are not required by law to submit to these tests in Florida, we advise drivers who have been pulled over to respectfully refuse to participate—even if it would be your first DUI offense—and to call our office as soon as possible.

How Field Sobriety Exercises Are Conducted in Florida

These exercises are designed to evaluate a person's physical and cognitive abilities, as impairment can affect balance, coordination, and cognitive function. Here are some common field sobriety exercises used by law enforcement in Florida:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. This test involves the officer observing the driver's eye movements as they follow a slowly moving object (like a pen or flashlight) horizontally. Involuntary jerking of the eyes, known as nystagmus, can be more pronounced when a person is impaired. Officers in Florida put a lot of credence in this test, so it is a common roadside test.
  • Walk and Turn test. The walk and turn test requires the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back. Officers look for signs of impairment, such as difficulty maintaining balance, stepping off the line, or using arms for balance.
  • One-Leg Stand test. In the one-leg stand test, the driver is instructed to stand on one leg with the other leg raised approximately six inches off the ground. The officer looks for signs of swaying, hopping, or putting the foot down.
  • Finger-to-Nose test. During the finger-to-nose test, the driver is asked to close their eyes, tilt their head back, and touch the tip of their nose with the index finger. Officers assess the ability to follow instructions, balance, and coordination.
  • Rhombus Balance test. The rhombus balance test involves the driver standing with one foot in front of the other, arms at their side, and counting aloud for a specific duration. Officers observe balance and coordination during this exercise.
  • Alphabet or counting exercises. Drivers may be asked to recite the alphabet backward or count backward from a specific number. The ability to follow instructions and perform the task accurately is assessed.
  • Modified Romberg Balance test. In this test, the driver is asked to stand with feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed while estimating 30 seconds. Officers observe for swaying or other signs of impairment.
  • Counting fingers. Officers may ask the driver to count their fingers, either by holding them up or by wiggling them, to assess cognitive function and ability to follow instructions.

Not many individuals can complete these tasks flawlessly, even when they are completely sober. You may have had a drink or two and be under the legal limit but still fail one of these tests on the roadside.

Field sobriety exercises are not foolproof, and various factors can influence an individual's performance. The effectiveness of these tests is subjective, and other factors, such as medical conditions or environmental conditions, may impact the results.

Let Your Florida DUI Defense Lawyer Do the Talking

Drivers have the right to refuse these tests, and we recommend that you do. Thinking you can beat the roadside test and avoid being asked to take a breath or blood test is a foolish risk. You will be doing the officer's job for them. Instead, if you are arrested for suspicion of DUI in Florida, you should call a lawyer as soon as possible.

At Flaherty & Merrifield, we will get to work right away gathering crucial information, reviewing evidence, and identifying any procedural errors or violations of your rights during the arrest. Additionally, we will advise you of the potential consequences of your arrest and guide you on how to handle interactions with law enforcement. Calling us right away allows us to build a strong defense strategy, ensuring that no opportunities are missed to protect your rights and minimize the impact of the DUI charges.

Brandy Merrifield
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney