The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration implemented a Standardized Field Sobriety Test battery (SFST) in 1981 after six years of research. The SFST battery helps police officers determine whether a person’s blood alcohol content might be over .10. However, since the implementation of the SFST battery, several states, including Georgia, lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration from 0.10 to 0.08 for most drivers. Commercial drivers in Georgia cannot have a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.04. If you have had to take the SFST test contact an experienced DUI defense attorney to discuss your legal options.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery
The SFST battery includes three “tests” that police officers give to a driver whom they suspect of driving under the influence. Officers administer these tests before they arrest the suspect or ask them to submit to chemical tests. The officers who administer the tests are trained to do so. If a patrol officer stops you and suspects you of a DUI but has not been trained in administering the tests, they will call another officer who has been trained.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
When your eyes move to the side, they involuntarily jerk. Alcohol in your system causes this jerking to become more noticeable. The more impaired you are, the more exaggerated the jerking becomes in most people. An officer will have you follow their finger or a pen with your eyes and watch your eyes for excessive jerking.
Walking and Turning
When an officer has you walk and turn, they are checking to see that you can follow instructions. If you are impaired, it is more difficult for you to follow instructions.
Standing on One Leg
This is a test that can be difficult for some people even if they are not impaired. This test checks your balance, which gets worse the more impaired you are.
Problems With the SFST Battery of Tests
The major problem with the SFST battery is that the tests are not 100 percent accurate. When the legal blood alcohol limit was dropped from 0.10 to 0.08, seven police officers collected data during their regular patrols to determine the SFST’s accuracy.
Their findings showed that of 298 tests they conducted during the study period, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test only accurately identified 90 percent of the subjects the officers suspected were under the influence based on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. While 90 percent might seem like a high percentage, for the 10 percent of individuals who were not under the influence but were still asked to take a chemical test, a 90 percent accuracy rate is too low. The other tests in the SFST battery were not evaluated for accuracy in identifying blood alcohol levels at or below 0.08.
Additional Accuracy Issues
In many cases, people may not be able to complete one or more of the tests in the SFST battery. A person may have eye problems that cause excessive skipping as their eyes move from side to side, even when they are not impaired. This kind of condition can result in a false positive in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Other people may have health issues that prevent them from balancing on one foot or from walking in a straight line.
If you have a medical issue, you should let the officer know that it will affect your performance on the SFST battery. You can also refuse to take the SFST battery.
Submitting to the Battery of Tests
Because the SFST battery does not measure blood alcohol content but rather simply gives an officer probable cause to arrest you, you do not have to agree to take the tests. However, if you refuse testing, you will probably be asked to take a chemical test. While you do not have to take the SFST battery, your license will be suspended for a year for refusing to take a chemical test, which may be a Breathalyzer, blood, or urine test.
Penalties for DUI
If you are accused of driving under the influence, the state will examine your driving record to see how many DUIs you’ve had in the past 10 years. A first or second offense is a misdemeanor. A third offense is an aggravated misdemeanor. A fourth offense is a felony.
Fines start at $300, with ten days of jail time for the first offense. Community service sentences start at 40 hours. You may also have to take the DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program class, undergo a clinical evaluation, and/or be subject to probation.
For a second offense, the fine starts at $600 and the jail time at 90 days with a mandatory minimum of 72 hours. You will also be required to complete at least 30 days of community service. As with a first offense, you may have to take a class, do probation, or undergo a clinical evaluation.
If you receive a third conviction in a 10-year period, the fine increases to a minimum of $1,000 and jail time increases to up to 12 months. The jail sentence for a third conviction includes a 120-day mandatory minimum jail sentence. You may also be placed on probation, have to take the DUI class, or get a clinical evaluation. You will also be required to complete at least 30 days of community service.
For a fourth conviction in 10 years, the fine increases to a minimum of $1,000 and the jail time increases to at least a year with a mandatory minimum of 90 days. As with the other convictions you may have to take the DUI class, undergo the evaluation and may be required to serve probation. Community service is increased to at least 60 days.
Contact Schnipper Law, P.C.’s Atlanta DUI Attorneys Today
If you have been arrested for a DUI, contact Schnipper Law, P.C. for a free consultation as soon as possible. Hire a DUI attorney to represent you in your very first DUI hearing, because pleading the wrong way in the arraignment could get you convicted. A nolo contendere plea counts against you.
You can reach Schnipper Law at (404) 545-5845 or through our confidential contact page.