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What are the field sobriety tests for DUI stops?

If a police officer believes a driver has been drinking, they may ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests in order to establish probable cause for an arrest. These tests are used to help officers determine whether the driver had been driving with blood alcohol content over the legal limit, which in Mississippi is .08 percent.

There are three standardized field sobriety tests that may be administered and used as evidence in DUI cases. Before an arrest is made, the driver is usually given a Breathalyzer test as well. Failure to pass these tests may result in criminal charges and, if convicted, may lead to long-term consequences such as fines, increased insurance rates and driver's license suspension.

The first type of field sobriety test is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. This test is designed to measure impairment in the eyes. A person's eyes naturally jerk when looking to the side but when a person is intoxicated, the movement is exaggerated. Officers will look for such exaggerated movement by asking the driver to follow a moving object with their eyes.

The second type of field sobriety test is the Walk and Turn, designed to measure a driver's attention level. This test requires the driver to take nine steps by walking heel to toe in a straight line and then turning on one foot and doing it again in the opposite direction.

The third type of field sobriety test is the One-Leg Stand. For this balancing test, the officer will ask the driver to stand with one leg six inches off the ground for 30 seconds. The officer will look for indicators of impairment such as swaying, hopping, use of arms to balance or not remaining on one foot.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, these three tests accurately indicate impairment in 91 percent of all cases. However, non-standardized tests may also be administered, such as reciting the alphabet or leaning back to look upward with arms out to the side.

Police officers must conduct the initial stop, field sobriety test administration, Breathalyzer and arrest in accordance with the law. From a criminal defense perspective, if any element of the stop, including the sobriety testing, did not follow proper procedures, evidence gathered may be questioned in court and possibly excluded from consideration, protecting the defendant while greatly hurting the prosecutor's attempts to seek a conviction.

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