The 2023 tourist season has just begun in Maryland. Visitors to Ocean City are arriving in droves, although some may have their vacations cut short. The police may conduct a traffic stop and seek to administer a field sobriety test (which happens almost daily throughout the beach town). If a driver fails the test, he or she might go to jail instead of back to his or her condo or hotel. Failing a field sobriety test typically constitutes probable cause for making a DUI arrest.
A police officer must have a legitimate reason for making a traffic stop. If an officer suspects a driver of being under the influence of alcohol, he or she may instruct the driver to exit the vehicle and ask him or her to take a field sobriety test. Compliance is not mandatory, and anyone who takes the test will want to remember that a failing score can lead to handcuffs and a trip to the county jail.
What happens during a field sobriety test?
There are three basic types of field sobriety tests: the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the one-leg stance test. During the tests, the officer closely observes how well the person taking test can follow instructions and perform the requested tasks, such as tracking an object with eyes only while not moving the head, or standing on one leg while tilting the head back and counting aloud by 5s or 10s or whatever the officer requests. In the walk-and-turn test, the participant is told to walk a straight line with arms outstretched, placing the heel of one foot at the toe of the other with every step.
Even a sober person (especially one who is clumsy or has trouble with balance skills) might perform poorly on a field sobriety test. Any stumble or hesitation might be interpreted as a sign of intoxication. If a DUI arrest takes place and charges are filed, the failed test scores will no doubt be offered as support of the officer’s actions. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to determine just cause for challenging the evidence or requesting a case dismissal if the legal rights of the accused have been violated.