During the course of an operating while intoxicated (OWI) investigation, Wisconsin law enforcement agents will use a series of field sobriety tests to gauge the driver’s level of intoxication. Although only three have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests—officers may use a number of other tests on the roadside.
While these tests may seem fairly accurate, the fact is that the use of the field sobriety tests is a hotly debated topic in the scientific community. Because of this, you shouldn’t base any decisions off of your performance on the field sobriety tests without speaking to an experienced Wisconsin OWI attorney.
The first thing you should know about the field sobriety tests is that the scoring is highly subjective. The officer is required to look for a number of “clues” while administering the tests; however, what one person may view as a clue may look like standard performance to another person. When combined with the fact that the officer more than likely already views you as guilty of drunk driving, you can see that his or her perceptions may be biased.
Because the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests are more physical in nature, those who are over age 65, more than 50 pounds overweight, or who possess a physical limitation should not be asked to perform these field sobriety tests. In addition, these tests should always be performed on dry, hard, level ground.
Standing on one leg and walking heel-to-toe in a straight line are difficult for many people. When an officer asks you to perform these activities on the side of the road while cars go speeding by, concentrating on the task at hand can be next to impossible. An attorney may be able to argue that anxiety and nervousness at being pulled over affected your ability to perform these tests.
With the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the officer will ask you to look from side to side while watching a small stimulus to observe the onset of nystagmus (the jerking of the eyes). Unfortunately, there are more than 100 conditions—other than intoxication—that could also cause a person to fail this test.
At Tracey Wood & Associates, our attorneys have undergone training on the field sobriety tests, and understand the guidelines that should be observed during their administration. Attorney Tracey Wood has also been trained as an instructor in field sobriety tests—having higher training than most police officers. If we find that your test results were flawed in anyway, we can challenge them in an effort to obtain the dismissal, acquittal or reduction of your charges.