What To Know About Field Sobriety Tests In Rhode Island

Field sobriety tests are used by law enforcement officials, including highway patrolling state troopers and local municipality 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, although most departments have the option of additional tests at the police department. 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 Are Field Sobriety Tests?
There are three standardized field sobriety tests that have been widely approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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: Most judges in RI Courts will not permit the admissibility of this test without the proper medical foundation. In other words, Nystagmus is a medical term, and it can be caused by a multitude of factors, including fatigue and head injury. 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 or vertically. This is one of the most commonly administered type of field sobriety test; however it is the least likely to be admitted into evidence by the Judge.  Motorists should still refuse this test, as other observations, such as swaying or the smell of alcohol made during the test, are more likely to be held admissible.  Once again, you have the legal right to refuse to submit to field sobriety tests, such as this one, without prescribed penalty.

  • 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, but in a series of small steps, 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.  This is a divided attention test, as it not only measures the driver’s ability to follow instructions, but also to walk in a straight line.  This test has multiple clues, which are utilized to gauge a pass or a failure, but failing merely two clues is sufficient to be deemed to have not performed this test in a satisfactory manner.  Once again, there is no penalty at law for refusing this test, and a motorist should refuse to submit to its administration.  Even a motorist who feels generally that they performed well, will learn that the police articulated a failure based upon innocuous observations that are difficult for the motorist to disprove later.  Remember, the police in Rhode Island no longer have cruiser video of these tests, so it’s their word against yours.  For instance, using arms for balance, not touching heel to toe, using a pivot turn, not counting out loud and taking the wrong number of steps can all result in a subjective failure, even if you walked perfectly straight up and down the line.  This test is simply designed to fail, sober or not.

  • One-Leg Stand Test: The motorist is told to stand with one foot off of the ground and count aloud by ones beginning with one thousand until the officer is satisfied. The officer looks for any inabilities to remain balanced or standing upright, along with difficulties to count.  There is not a time limit, but the test generally lasts for 30 seconds in duration.  I cannot stress how difficult this test can be to pass, when the motorist is distracted, nervous and outside in any range of weather conditions.  Therefore, although there are only four clues, taking this test at the request of law enforcement is a mistake, and there is no penalty in Rhode Island for refusing the test.  For instance, even slight swaying or hopping during the test, even if you never put your alternate foot down, is enough for a failure.  

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 possible jail time, loss of license 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 is appropriate and intelligent.

It is also important to know that the field sobriety tests are highly subjective, meaning to 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.  In general, why would you submit to a test that is designed to fail and provide additional ammunition to the police department?  Similarly, if you are intoxicated, why would you submit to a chemical test, which will prove what the officer merely suspects?  My opinion on this topic is always refuse the standardized field sobriety tests in Rhode Island.

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 all of his vast 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 experience. 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, or fill out a contact form online.

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.