Field Sobriety Tests in Delaware
When the police pull over a driver who is suspected of driving under the influence, they often ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests. The purpose of administering field sobriety tests is to develop probable cause to take the driver back to the police station and administer the Intoxilyzer blood alcohol content test or to develop probable cause to take the driver to a hospital to undergo a blood draw and have the blood tested for alcohol.
The police cannot just select drivers at random and take them for blood-alcohol testing. The Constitution requires the police to have a reason to stop a vehicle (swerving all over the road, running a stop sign, etc.). The Constitution also requires the police to have probable cause to believe a driver is intoxicated before they can place the driver under arrest and take him for an official breath or blood test. Field sobriety tests are used to develop that probable cause.
There are three tests approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). They are:
- The one-leg stand. During the one-leg stand, the officer tells you to stand on one leg with the other foot six inches off the ground and count to thirty. If your foot sways, if you drop your foot, if you can’t keep count, you fail.
- Walk and turn. In this test, the officer instructs you to start walking one foot directly in front of the other. He specifies the number of steps, specifies how to turn, and specifies the number of steps to take coming back toward him.
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The officer asks you to hold your head still while he moves a pen or light back and forth in front of your eyes and tells you to keep your eyes on the object. The officer is watching for the way your eyes move back and forth. This is usually done on the side of the road with traffic whizzing by and with the police car’s flashing lights on. Good luck passing this test.
There are a number of other tests that are often administered. These include standing feet together and tipping the head back to determine if you lose balance, counting the number of fingers the officer holds up, reciting a portion of the alphabet, counting backward from one number to another, and there are others. One popular field sobriety test is the touch-your-nose test. You stand with both arms extended and look upwards while attempting to bring your pointer finger directly to your nose.
One additional field sobriety test is the Portable Breath Test, or PBT. This is a handheld breathalyzer that the officer will ask you to blow it out on the side of the road. It is not the same as the Intoxilyzer that is back at the police station. The Intoxilyzer is a calibrated machine that cannot be moved from place to place. It is supposed to be accurate in determining the blood-alcohol content of a subject from exhaled breath.