Sobriety Tests Palm Beach County FloridaSobriety Tests Palm Beach County Florida

Once an officer suspects that a person is impaired, an officer trained in the administration of field sobriety tests or roadside exercises should request the motorist to perform a series of tasks at roadside, preferably on a flat, even surface with good lighting conditions. The roadside tests or exercises are psychomotor exercises: the walk-and-turn, one-legged stand, balance test and finger-to-nose test. These tests require the test subject to divide his or her attention between mental and physical tasks. In theory, a subject under the influence of alcohol will have difficulty in coping with the divided attention required of these tasks. The first exercise described herein, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is not a task that would provide commonly understood cues of impairment, as discussed below.

The roadside exercises are not for everyone, and may yield negative results having nothing to do with levels of impairment if the motorist suffers from problems with his/her neck, back, knees, legs, feet, joints, eye-sight, middle-ear, is overweight or is just tired or out of shape.

A motorist should not agree or refuse to perform the roadside physical testing without thinking it through. The officer should explain that a motorist who refuses to perform the exercises may have that refusal used against them later, as consciousness of guilt. Meaning, that the motorist refused to perform the roadside exercises because he/she knew that it would show he/she was impaired. However, a person who chooses to perform is subjecting that performance to a highly subjective evaluation by the officer of a series of physical tests the motorist is trying for the first time, in public, without any prior opportunity to practice.

HORIZONTAL GAZE NYSTAGMUS (HGN):

“Nystagmus is a physiological condition which refers to an involuntary rapid movement of the eyeball, which may be horizontal, vertical or rotary. An inability of the eyes to maintain visual fixation as they are turned from side to side (in other words jerking or bouncing) is known as horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN.” State v. Meador, 674 So.2d 826, 833 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).

In the HGN test the driver is asked to cover one eye and focus the other on an object (usually a pen) held by the officer at the driver’s eye level. As the officer moves the object gradually out of the driver’s field of vision toward his ear, he watches the driver’s eyeball to detect involuntary jerking. The test is repeated with the other eye. By observing (1) the inability of each eye to track movement smoothly, (2) pronounced nystagmus at maximum deviation and (3) onset of the nystagmus at an angle less than 45 degrees in relation to the center point, the officer can estimate whether the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeds the legal limit of .10 percent. See State v. Superior Court In and For Cochise County, 149 Ariz. 269, 271, 718 P.2d 171, 173 (Ariz. 1986).

At trial, if the motorist refused scientific testing, such as breath or blood tests, the HGN test results should not be admitted as lay observations of impairment because HGN testing constitutes scientific evidence. Thus, although the evidence may be relevant, the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, or misleading the jury requires the exclusion of the HGN test evidence unless the traditional predicates of scientific evidence are satisfied.

WALK-AND-TURN:

The Walk-And-Turn test requires that the motorist listen to and follow instructions while performing physical movements. In theory, only impaired persons have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between simple mental and physical exercises. In practice, there are a wide-variety of reasons why a sober person would have trouble performing the Walk & Turn test.

In the Walk-and-Turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance, makes an improper turn, or takes an incorrect number of steps.

The officer administering the test will note as failure any occurrence of the following:

  • Cannot balance during instructions.
  • Starting before instructions are completed.
  • Stops Walking to regain balance or steady self.
  • Does not touch heel-to-toe.
  • Steps off the line.
  • Uses arms for balance.
  • Loses balance on turns or turns incorrectly.
  • Incorrect number of steps.
  • Any inability to perform.

ONE LEG STAND

In the One-Leg Stand test, the motorist is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down.

The officer administering the test will note as failure any occurrence of the following:

  • Swaying while balancing.
  • Uses arms for balance.
  • Hopping.
  • Putting foot down.
  • Any inability to perform.

FINGER TO NOSE:

The motorist is told to place his or her hands at his or her sides, extend index fingers, and remain in that position until told to begin. Then, told to touch the tip of his/her nose with the hand specified, then to return the hand to his or her side. The motorist is instructed to close his or her eyes and tilt his or her head back, maintaining that position until the task is over.

The officer administering the test will note as failure any occurrence of the following:

  • Does not keep eyes closed.
  • Does not point forward prior to touching nose.
  • Misses tip of nose with index finger.
  • Uses wrong hand.
  • Forgets to remove finger.
  • Any inability to perform.

RHOMBERG ALPHABET:

The Rhomberg Alphabet test is a non-standardized test that has not been adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The motorist is asked to recite the alphabet non-rhythmically while standing with his or her feet together, hands at his or her side with his or her head tilted back.

The officer administering the test will note as failure any occurrence of the following:

  • Does not keep eyes closed.
  • Swaying.
  • Uses arms for balance.
  • Any inability to perform.

WHAT ABOUT MY MIRANDA RIGHTS?

In the case of Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the roadside questioning of a motorist detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop did not constitute “custodial interrogation,” and therefore did not require that the motorist be advised of the Miranda rights. Notwithstanding, if a motorist who has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders the motorist “in custody” for practical purposes, he or she is entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda.