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DUI Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

Florida’s implied consent law requires all motorists issued driver's licenses by the state to submit to an approved chemical test or physical test of their blood or breath if suspected of driving or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance. Before asking an alleged offender to submit to a blood or breath test, many police officers in Florida will ask individuals suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) to perform certain field sobriety tests (also known as FSTs or roadside sobriety tests).

While refusal to submit to a blood or breath test can be a criminal offense, motorists are not obligated to submit to field sobriety tests. It is important for an individual who has been pulled over for a suspected DUI to understand that field sobriety tests are inherently flawed procedures in which a single alleged error can be construed as failure of the test and lead to the alleged offender being arrested for DUI.

Lawyer for DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Gainesville, FL

If you were arrested for DUI after allegedly failing a field sobriety test anywhere in north central Florida, it is in your best interest to retain legal counsel as soon as possible. Galigani Law Firm aggressively defends clients accused of drunk driving in communities throughout Alachua County, Marion County, Levy County, Gilchrist County, and many surrounding areas in and around Gainesville.

Gainesville criminal defense attorney Dean Galigani is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar. You can have our lawyers provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case as soon as you call (352) 375-0812 to take advantage of a free initial consultation.


Alachua County DUI Field Sobriety Tests Information Center


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Types of Standardized DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Gainesville

The kinds of field sobriety tests that may be administered by police officers in Florida vary, but only three were included in the training curriculum that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed for police officers in all 50 states. NHTSA’s three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

Nystagmus refers to the involuntary jerking of the eye when a person is intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance, and the HGN test is frequently considered to be the most accurate of all field sobriety tests. When examining an alleged offender suspected of DUI, an officer will hold a "stimulus" (some kind of small object, often a pen) about 12 to 15 inches away from the person's nose, slightly above eye level, and slowly move it from side to side. Alleged offenders are instructed to follow the object's path with only their eyes so as not to move their heads. Police officers are generally looking for the following HGN signs in each eye:

  • Lack of smooth pursuit;
  • Nystagmus at maximum deviation; and
  • Onset of gaze nystagmus prior to 45 degrees.

HGN tests may be improperly administered if the test is conducted in an area with numerous distractions, a police officer moves the stimulus too quickly or too slowly, or the officer holds the object too close to or too far from an alleged offender’s eyes. Additionally, numerous medical conditions could contribute to or cause the onset of nystagmus.

Walk-and-Turn (WAT)

In a WAT test, the alleged offender is instructed to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in nine heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction. Police officers will record any errors with the following checklist:

  • Loses balance during instructions;
  • Starts before instructions are finished;
  • Stops while walking;
  • Does not touch heel-to-toe;
  • Steps off line;
  • Uses arms for balance;
  • Loses balance while turning/incorrect turn; or
  • Cannot perform test.

Completely sober individuals may struggle to satisfactorily complete the WAT test if they have certain disabilities or handicaps, or if they simply have poor coordination.

One-Leg Stand (OLS)

When a police officer administers the OLS test, an alleged offender is instructed to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands for 30 seconds. The criterion for arrest is any two of the following points:

  • Sways while balancing;
  • Uses arms for balance;
  • Hopping;
  • Puts foot down; or
  • Cannot perform test.

People frequently fail OLS tests because of all kinds of external factors completely unrelated to intoxication including weather or basic fatigue.


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Types of Non-Standardized DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Alachua County

Depending on the jurisdiction that a motorist is stopped in, police officers may request that alleged offenders submit to other common types field sobriety tests that are not standardized by NHTSA. Because non-standardized tests are not recognized by NHTSA, it can be more difficult for prosecutors to get the results of such tests admitted into evidence.

Some of the non-standardized FSTs most frequently used by police officers in Florida include, but are not limited to:

  • Romberg Balance Test — An alleged offender is instructed to stand with his or her feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed. The police officer will ask the alleged offender to say "stop" when he or she thinks 30 seconds have passed. The officer is usually looking for any swaying or body tremors, but also judges an alleged offender based on how well he or she follows directions.
  • Finger-to-Nose Test — An alleged offender is instructed to close his or her eyes, tilt his or her head back, and touch his or her noses with their index finger. The test is typically performed three times with each hand. Officers are again looking for any physical signs of impairment and judging alleged offenders based on how well they follow directions.
  • ABC Test — An alleged offender is instructed to recite or possibly write a portion of the alphabet or the entire alphabet (maybe backwards). The officer will be looking for any slurring of speech or errors in recitation of the alphabet. 
  • Numbers Backward Test — An alleged offender is instructed to count backwards from a certain number. Officers are again looking for any slurring of speech or counting errors.
  • Vertical Gaze Nystagmus Test — Similar to the HGN test, but the officer moves the stimulus up and down instead of side to side. Medical conditions are a common reason that alleged offenders may exhibit Vertical Gaze Nystagmus but not HGN.

The results of field sobriety tests are highly subjective, but prosecutors frequently use dashcam video of alleged offenders performing FSTs as evidence in DUI cases. Several people who agree to perform field sobriety tests believe they performed fine and are surprised to learn that police officers noted errors constituting failure of such tests.

A Gainesville criminal defense lawyer may be able to challenge the FST results being entered into evidence if the tests were impacted by an alleged offender's age, fatigue, handicaps, injuries, or medical conditions. Other external factors that can negatively impact the accuracy of a field sobriety test include improper instructions, lack of a baseline, uneven testing services, and inclement weather.


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Florida DUI Field Sobriety Test Resources

Validation of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery at BACs Below 0.10 Percent — View a report conducted for NHTSA to evaluate the accuracy of the SFST Battery to assist officers in making arrest decisions and to discriminate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below 0.10 percent (the report was published in August 1998, a time when many states were reducing statutory drunk driving limits to 0.08). According to the report, officers’ estimates of whether a motorist’s BAC was above or below 0.08 or 0.04 percent were extremely accurate, with estimates at the 0.08 level being accurate in 91 percent of cases. Estimates of whether a motorist’s BAC was above 0.04 but under 0.08 were accurate in 94 percent of the decisions to arrest and in 80 percent of the relevant cases overall.

State v. Taylor, 648 So. 2d 701 (1995) No. 82631 — James E. Taylor was charged with DUI in Florida and, prior to trial, moved to suppress his refusal to take the field sobriety tests, arguing that he was not told by police that he was required to take the tests or that his refusal could be used against him. The county court granted the motion to suppress, the circuit court reversed, and the district court quashed the circuit court order. On January 5, 1995, the Supreme Court of Florida issued its decision in this case presenting a “certified question of great public importance”: Does a DUI suspect's refusal to submit to pre-arrest field sobriety tests admissible in evidence? The Florida Supreme Court concluded that "Taylor's refusal to take the field sobriety tests was not elicited in violation of his statutory or constitutional rights and its use at trial does not offend constitutional principles," quashing the decision of the district court.


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Galigani Law Firm | Gainesville Field Sobriety Test Defense Attorney

Were you or your loved one arrested in north central Florida for an alleged DUI offense after submitting to field sobriety tests? Do not make any kind of statement to authorities until you have first contacted Galigani Law Firm.

Our criminal defense lawyers in Gainesville represent individuals all over the greater Gainesville area, including communities in Columbia County, Baker County, Bradford County, and Union County.

Call (352) 375-0812 or complete an online contact form to have our attorneys review your case and answer all of your legal questions during a free, confidential consultation.



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