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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Colorado

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test [“SFST”] in Colorado is comprised of three tests, which can be classified into two categories. The first category is the divided attention test and it is composed of the following tests; (1) the walk-and-turn [“W&T”] and  (2) the one-leg stand [“OLS”].  The final test used is (3) the horizontal gaze nystagmus [“HGN”]. The purpose of these tests is “to obtain validated indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest.”

The divided attention tests are difficult to perform while intoxicated since the tests require the individual to divide their attention “between simple mental and physical exercises.”

In the walk and turn test, an individual “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.” While the individual is taking the test, the police officer will be grading him on the following criteria: (1) keeping balance while listening, (2) commences before instructions are finished, (3) stops walking ,(4) utilizes arms for balance, (5) loss of balance while turning, (6) does not take nine steps, (7) does not walk correctly i.e. not heel to toe.

In the one-leg stand test, “the suspect is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for a 30 seconds.” While the individual is taking the test, the police officer will be grading him on the following criteria: (1) sway, (2) utilizes arms for balance, (3) hopping, (4) putting one foot down.

In the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the police officer, “officer observes the eyes of a suspect as the suspect follows a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally with his eyes.” While the individual is taking the test, the police officer will be grading him on the following criteria in each eye: (1) follow a moving object smoothly, (2) distinct jerking while eye is at maximum deviation, (3) “if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center.”

The SFST is conducted under national standards and supported by credible research, so it is a powerful evidentiary tool for the prosecution. However, the validity of the tests can be challenged on the basis of bias and human error. As previously mentioned, each test is conducted by a police officer and the suspect is graded according to the officer’s discretion. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration releases detailed instructions on how to properly conduct the tests, and if the officer improperly performed the test, the results may be shown to be meaningless


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