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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Indiana

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has approved three different standardized tests for determining whether a driver is operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. These tests are known as the Standard Field Sobriety Tests. In order for the investigating officer to administer any of the three tests, the officer must pull over the car in question and have the driver exit the vehicle.  The driver may administer one of several tests.

The first test in the Standard Field Sobriety Test series that an officer may administer is called the One-Leg Stand test. To perform this test, the officer instructs the driver to raise one foot six inches off the ground and count out loud until otherwise instructed by the officer. During this time, the driver must keep his hands to his sides, keep his toes pointed outward and look downward. Improper actions such as balancing oneself with one’s arms, stopping the test, putting the upraised foot down or forgetting to count out loud, count against the driver. If the driver fails this test twice, he may be arrested for driving while intoxicated. This test is called a divided attention test because it measures the driver’s ability to focus on a number of small tasks at once.

The second Standard Field Sobriety Test is also a divided attention test. This test is the Walk and Turn test. The officer must explain the directions for this test and must demonstrate it for the driver.  The driver will be instructed to walk in a line, taking nine heel-to-toe steps while counting out loud. The driver must then pivot on his front foot and walk back in the same manner and while counting out loud.  The officer looks for the driver’s inability to walk in a straight line, loss of balance, forgetting to count, etc. If the driver makes two errors, he may be arrested.

The last test in the Standard Field Sobriety Test series is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. In performing this test, the driver must hold his head still and follow a pen or a light that the officer holds only with his eyes. The officer looks for involuntary eye movements, which may be a sign that the driver has been drinking. The officer looks for three clues in each eye that the driver has been drinking. If the officer finds 4 out of 6 clues, the driver may be arrested. The HGN test is consider the most reliable with 77-88% rate of accuracy.

The driver’s performance on an administered field sobriety test is largely admissible in court. Indiana courts have ruled that the prosecution need only provide evidence of the arresting officer’s training and experience to lay the evidentiary foundation required to admit the results of field sobriety tests. There are several ways to challenge the Standard Field Sobriety Tests. The reason to challenge the tests is that they are largely unscientific. Persons with poor balance are more likely to fail either of the divided attention tests because they require sufficient coordination. Also, many people naturally exhibit nystagmus—the involuntary movement of the eyes. Weather conditions could also affect an officer’s ability to see the defendant’s performance of the test or the defendant’s ability to perform the test.

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