What are the three field sobriety tests in Utah? - Liberty Law

police administering field sobriety tests

Touching the nose, counting, or reciting the alphabet backwards. Although you may have seen them performed on TV, these are not valid field sobriety tests in Utah. There are three field sobriety tests a Utah police officer may conduct when suspecting a DUI—three standardized field sobriety tests adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the portable breathalyzer test (PBT).

What are the types of field sobriety tests?

The three tests adopted by the NHTSA help determine if you have the balance, coordination, and ability to divide attention among several tasks, making them a valid or reliable basis for DUI cases by law enforcement officers or prosecutors. 

If you are deemed unfit to drive after proper administration of these sobriety tests, the police officer may require you to take a chemical test. Such test(s) determine whether you are driving under the influence or not.

Remember: You’re not required to take any of these field sobriety tests because Utah’s implied consent law only applies to chemical tests—breath, blood, and urine—after you are arrested. Police officers cannot “test out” their suspicions that you are impaired using field sobriety tests if you do not give them permission.

1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

You may have seen this type of test used in DUI cases in movies. The officer will instruct you to move your eyes from one side to the other while holding a pen or using a finger as a guide. Normally, when a person moves their eyes from left to right, there is a smooth flow of sight. However, if there is involuntary jerking, bouncing, or skipping of your eyes, rather than a smooth flow from left to right, the officer may suspect that you are driving while impaired.

You may be wondering: Is any failure on the test sufficient to conclude that you’re impaired? No.

That’s why it’s critical that this type of test is administered or performed correctly, or it may be deemed invalid. Possible defenses to a failed test include if the officer skipped parts of the test; if you have a physical or neurological condition (such as eye nystagmus) that could affect your test results; or if your surroundings, such as police car’s flashing lights, could have interfered with the test results.

2. The Nine Step Walk and Turn Test

This test is also a kind of “divided attention test,” or a mental and physical exercise. The police officer may ask you to count out loud while taking nine steps in a straight line, heel to toe, then turn around and take nine steps in the opposite direction.

Failures on this test can include walking before the officer tells you to start, not touching heel to toe on every step, correcting your balance, or counting incorrectly. The officer can use these failures to decide you are driving under the influence.

However, many factors can influence your test results. These factors may include an officer’s failure to give straightforward instructions; your attention to the test; poorly fitting shoes; and other health conditions such as poor eyesight, balance, and attention or mental disorders.

3. The One Leg Stand Test

This is also a divided attention test, wherein you must balance and count at the same time. The police officer may ask you to hold one foot 6 inches off the ground while counting out loud by 1000. This will go on for thirty seconds. If you are unable to hold your balance (for example, by swaying or putting your foot down) or if you miscount, the officer may suspect that you are intoxicated.

Again, there could be problems with the results. It’s always best to consider a failure to balance could be caused by a health condition, such as back, foot, or leg injuries, or the body’s natural tendency to sway when balancing on one foot.

4. The Portable Breathalyzer Test (PBT)

This test estimates your BAC by measuring the amount of alcohol on your breath. It is a hand-held mobile breathalyzer—a smaller, simpler version of the larger instruments used at police stations to determine intoxication levels. Their results can be variable, depending on the accuracy of the individual unit and the officer’s ability to use the PBT correctly.

How are field sobriety tests used in Utah?

If a police officer pulls you over and notices slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or other behaviors that indicate driving under the influence, they may ask you to take any of these field sobriety tests. If you are aware of any injuries or other reasons why you might fail these tests, you may refuse to consent to any field sobriety test. Not until you are placed under arrest for a DUI can the officer require you to submit to a chemical test to determine the level of drugs or alcohol, if any, in your system.  

Get a DUI lawyer from Liberty Law

If you are charged with a DUI, contact an experienced defense attorney right away to help you. Liberty Law’s attorneys have a proven track record of DUI dismissals and not guilty verdicts. Reach out to us at james@utahlibertylaw.com or visit any of our offices for free consultation.