Massachusetts Field Sobriety Tests are used by law enforcement officers to determine whether someone may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
There are 3 standardized tests that are approved through the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) that may be administered :
1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). The officer will ask the suspect to follow an object with his eyes. As the object is moved further to the side of the person, a jerking of the eyes called HGN will occur. HGN is more prominent in impaired persons. Under Massachusetts case law, this test is typically excluded as most officers/troopers are not qualified as experts to interpret the movement of the eye.
2. The 9 step walk and turn requires the suspect to walk 9 steps heal to toe, while keeping their arms at the side. At the end of 9 steps the suspect is instructed to turn with small pivots and return 9 steps heal/toe. There are 8 clues that the officer/trooper is looking for during the instruction and performance portion of this test.
3. The one leg stand. The suspect is instructed to stand at attention during the instruction and begin when told. The suspect is asked to raise one leg in a straight manner, keeping their hands at their sides and count to 30 one thousand. The officer/Trooper is looking for 4 clues with this test. Swaying, Hopping, putting the foot down and using arms for balance.
The field sobriety tests may be modified in the case of an individual who may not be able to perform the tests for physical reasons. In this case, the walk and turn and the one leg stand may be replaced with other tests, such as reciting the ABC entirely or a portion (i.e. C to W) or count backwards from 2 random numbers. (I.e. 52 -36)
You may be wondering the purpose of field sobriety tests when breathalyzer tests are available and more accurate. There are a few reasons officers administer field sobriety tests first, including:
- Additional evidence that the driver is under the influence to support the prosecution in court.
- If a person is under the influence of a substance other than alcohol, this may indicate impairment.
- In most states, including Massachusetts, a blood alcohol content of over .08 is automatically considered criminal, but the state can still charge a driver with a lower BAC who is impaired and field sobriety tests can help determine impairment.
Field sobriety tests are often challenged; for example, many tests can often be difficult to complete given the situation. Nerves and medical conditions can impact someone’s ability to perform the exercises and some people simply cannot do them regardless of alcohol consumption. An experienced DUI/OUI defense attorney can identify errors and inconsistencies in the proper administration of a field sobriety tests.
Remember, dash cams and other recording devices are not commonly used, even in this day and age. So the Officer/Troopers observation are subjective and open to some doubt. Sometimes there are dash cams and booking videos that call into question the officers/troopers observations. If you are facing DUI/OUI charges in Massachusetts and were given a field sobriety test, it’s quite possible the event has been recorded. You have the right to see this video as it may help your case.
If you are involved in a Massachusetts DUI/OUI case, there can be serious legal and financial consequences even on a first offense. Retaining experienced and proven legal counsel can make the difference.