What are Field Sobriety Tests?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Do I have to perform the field sobriety tests when I’m pulled over for DWI in NC?”


When you get pulled over by the police, they may wonder whether you have been drinking. Law enforcement may ask you to perform some field sobriety tests (FSTs). You may be familiar with these types of tests that police officers use to assess your sobriety. These tests are designed to assess your potential level of alcohol impairment. FSTs are commonly used across all law enforcement agencies in the state and country. A DWI charge can be extremely serious and could result in severe consequences such as the loss of your driving privileges, fines, jail time, and other penalties.


police-checkpoint-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-DWI-attorney-231x300Standard Field Sobriety Tests


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promotes the use of standard field sobriety tests for law enforcement agencies across the country. There are three standard FSTs including:


  • Walk and turn test – The walk and turn test requires you to take nine steps in a heel to toe manner, turn, and walk back to the start. You must walk in a straight line while you keep your arms at your sides.


  • One leg stand test – The one leg stand test requires you to hold one leg out in front of you at six inches off the ground and count out loud. The officer tells you when to stop, typically after about 30 seconds.


  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test – This test allows the officer to view your eye movements as you follow a small light. The officer holds the light and you must follow it with your eyes according to directions without moving your head.


Officers should have training in how to administer and evaluate FSTs. The FSTs are usually performed in a safe place away from the roadway at the place of the traffic stop. Although the tests are standard, they are certainly somewhat subjective. The officer may think that you did not perform the tests properly even if you think you did.


Can I Refuse FSTs?


It is important to know that you are not required by law to submit to field sobriety tests. You are also not required to take a preliminary breath test. The law does require you to submit to a chemical test, which is a breath, urine, or blood test usually completed at the police station.

In order to arrest you for DWI, officers must have probable cause. They must have some evidence that shows that you may be likely to be driving while under the influence. While you can refuse these FSTs, the police may be able to arrest you on suspicion of DWI. Officers can use other evidence such as their own observations of your behavior and the smell of alcohol on your breath.


Can I Challenge Field Sobriety Test Results?


If you submitted to FSTs and were ultimately charged with DWI, you have the ability to challenge the tests in court. Your attorney will review the details of the situation to determine how to proceed. In some instances, the officer did not have probable cause to perform the tests in the first place. If that is proven, the results of the FSTs might be excluded as evidence in your case. Without this evidence, the case might have little merit. There are other ways to challenge FSTs. For example, the tests may have been performed on uneven ground or in inclement conditions. You may have medical conditions that make the tests unreliable. If you refused to perform FSTs, that fact can be used against you in court.


If you are charged with DWI, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will help resolve the situation and seek justice. Please contact us today to get a phone, video or in-person consultation by calling at (704) 370-2828 to speak with our detail-oriented and well-versed lawyers with offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today or find additional resources here.







The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.







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