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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland

The standard field sobriety tests in Maryland include: the “walk and turn” test; standing on one leg test; and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN). The “walk and turn” and “one-leg stand” tests require a driver to exit the car and perform physical tasks which officers observe in order to detect for impairment.

The HGN is a test where a person is asked to shift her eye gaze from one side to the other while the police officer shines a light in her eyes. The rationale is that the gaze of a person who is impaired by alcohol or drugs will be jerky instead of smooth. (§ 7:22 Maryland DUI Handbook).

An officer may testify about his observations and opinion surrounding the performance of these tests. An officer may only testify as an expert witness if the state meets certain procedural requirements. The behavior and comments made by the driver are also admissible and may be used against the driver.

Field sobriety tests may be challenged in a similar fashion as officer observations are challenged.  Arguably medications and lack of sleep make it more difficult to perform these tests. Some people have physical impairments caused by injury or aging which make it impossible to perform these tasks even under normal or ideal conditions.  A defense attorney may cross-examine the arresting police officer, inquiring whether the officer asked the driver if he had any physical impairments or if there were any circumstances which would make it difficult for him to perform the tests.  An attorney may also bring to the jury’s attention that they may even have the same difficulty performing these tests under even the best of circumstances.

Also, the standardization of these sobriety tests is very important. The manual used to train officers in how to properly administer these tests stresses that the validity of these tests is applicable only when: the tests are administered in the standardized fashion laid out in the manual; the standardized clues are used to evaluate a driver’s performance; and the standardized criteria are used to interpret the performance. If any of these elements are omitted or altered, the validity of the field sobriety test is weakened.


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