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Field sobriety tests: What they are & how they work, Part II


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In today’s post, we’ll be continuing and concluding a discussion started last week. With Labor Day Weekend almost here, Colorado drivers may be at a higher risk for getting pulled over (because law enforcement agencies are expecting higher rates of drunk driving). If you get pulled over, you may be asked to take a field sobriety test.

Most law enforcement agencies around the country rely on the Standard Field Sobriety Test developed and endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The SFST is actually three different tests, one of which we covered in our last post. Today, we’ll cover the final two tests: The One Leg Stand and the Walk-and-Turn.

One Leg Stand

This is a fairly self-explanatory test of balance. The officer asks the suspect to lift one foot off the ground and count out loud. The test usually lasts about 30 seconds. During this time, the officer is observing the suspect for these possible signs of impairment:

  • Holding arms out to maintain balance
  • Swaying
  • Hopping to maintain or regain balance
  • Stopping the test early by placing the raised foot back onto the ground

Two or more of these behaviors suggest that the person is likely impaired, according to the NHTSA. But as we mentioned in our last post, there are plenty of other reasons someone might have difficulty with this test. Suspects may struggle because they are out of shape or obese, are of advanced age, struggle with balance because of medication or a medical condition or simply because they are nervous.


This is a test of balance and of the ability to follow directions. Suspects are asked to walk a straight line heel-to-toe for nine steps. After that, they must pivot and walk the same way in the opposite direction.

Here’s what officers are looking for:

  • Beginning before instructions are finished
  • Trouble maintaining balance during instructions
  • Stopping or pausing during the test due to balance issues
  • Holding arms out to balance
  • Stepping off the line
  • Making an improper turn
  • Taking too many or too few steps
  • Walking without touching heel-to-toe

As with the one leg stand, there are many perfectly innocent reasons why a non-intoxicated person would have trouble with the test.

The results of an SFST are usually based on the officer’s judgment. That being said, field sobriety tests are one of many aspects of a DUI stop that can be challenged in court. In order to understand your rights and legal options after a DUI arrest, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

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