Field sobriety tests are supposed to measure a person's a sobriety. These tests really measure a person physical dexterity. People who are overweight, wearing certain shoes or who have foot or leg problems cannot pass these tests. In many cases otherwise "normal" people cannot pass these tests. Without a breathalyzer the field sobriety tests will be very important to an OUI case. The person's performance of these tests is often the primary evidence used against them. You have the right to refuse to take the tests. However these tests are not protected by the Fifth Amendment prohibition on self incrimination because they measure a physical condition-not a oral statement or subjective revelation.

Typically an officer will administer three tests to an OUI suspect. The six types of Field sobriety tests are:

Walking a Straight line.
Standing on one foot while counting.
Reciting the alphabet.
Touching a finger to the nose.
Nine step heel to toe and turn.
Horizontal gaze nystagmus.


Walking a Straight line

In this test the police ask a suspect to walk a straight line. The test should be conducted on a flat smooth surface, with a visible line away from moving traffic. These tests are often conducted by busy roads, near a police cruiser with flashing lights at night with no visible line.

Standing on one foot while counting

In this test the officer looks for a person's: inability to follow directions; swaying while balancing; using their arms for balance; hopping; putting the foot down and not counting in order. As with Walking a Straight line this test is often marred by distractions that undermine the validity of the test. Older people, those overweight or wearing high heels- those that may have trouble keeping balance should not be given this test.

Reciting the alphabet

The officer asks the suspect to recite the alphabet- assuming they know it. The idea is that errors in what should be a simple exercise support an inference that the person is OUI. Of course other factors such as nervousness, distractions, lack of knowledge can explain errors.

Touching a finger to the nose

Here the officer asks the suspect with closed eyes and arms extended to touch their nose with their index finger. Lack of coordination will be used to support a theory of OUI.

Nine step heel to toe and turn

As with the walking a straight line exam the police officer will look for not being able to maintain balance, starting before the instructions are completed, stopping while walking to maintain balance, not touching heel to toe as instructed, using arms to balance, not walking straight, losing balance when making the turn and making more or less than nine steps. People with physical conditions such as being overweight or bad eyesight will often fail.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus

Horizontal gaze nystagmus measures an involuntary jerking of the eyes as they gaze to the side. (nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball). The suspect looks at the officer who holds a pen about 12 inches from the person's face and moves it slowly to one side and then the other at a 45 degree angle. The officer looks to see if the person has difficulty following the motion of the pen, whether their eyeball jerks when it is as far to the side as possible. The higher a person's blood alcohol the more the eyeball is supposed to jerk. This test is considered unreliable and beyond the police officer's training as it involves ophthalmology and neurology. It should be excluded from any court proceeding.

Find a Drunk Driving Lawyer | Consequences and Penalties | The Law | Massachusetts Legal Limit

Breathalyzer | Field Sobriety Tests | Home Page


Call 1-800-934-2921