Roadside Sobriety Tests (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests)

The Colorado Supreme Court has determined that roadside sobriety tests are a “search” that must be supported by probable cause for either DUI, DWAI, or the tests must be performed “voluntarily”.

No Miranda warning is required for roadside sobriety tests, as they do not implicate the privilege against self incrimination.

Police officers in Colorado are trained in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST’s) in accordance with the standards promulgated by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). These SFST’s are applied in all 50 states as screening devices to determine whether an arrest should be made for a DUI or DWAI.

In reality, often times police officers have already made an arrest determination even before SFST’s are conducted. This is contrary to NHTSA guidelines.

Three (3) SFST’s are recommended in the NHTSA Manual for DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. These three tests are: 1) HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus); 2) Walk-and-Turn; and 3) the One-Leg Stand. The One Leg Stand Test and the Walk-and-Turn Test are both divided attention tests, which require a driver to closely concentrate on multiple things at the same time.

It is important for defense counsel to have a comprehensive understanding of these tests in order to effectively cross-examine the arresting officer. The administration and results of the tests can be and should be attacked in Court.

Some Colorado police officers also administer other sobriety tests, but it is important to note that these are not endorsed by the NHTSA. One such test is the Rhomberg Test. This test is designed to determine how much a person sways with his or her head tilted back. The problem with this test (but helpful to the defense) is that all persons sway, including sober persons, under the administration of this test.

Some Colorado police officers will also administer an alphabet or counting test, which may include reciting the alphabet backwards. Variations of these tests may violate a person’s Fifth (5th) Amendment.

A finger-to-nose test is also sometimes administered by Colorado police officers. However this test is also not endorsed by NHTSA.

A preliminary breath test (PBT) is a roadside sobriety test. However, its results are inadmissible at trial because PBT tests are very inaccurate. It’s critical that an police officer not testify to the results of a PBT at trial.

Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN) will be administered by some Colorado police officers. However, according to NHTSA, VGN is only present in persons who are under the influence of inhalants, CNS depressants, or PCP. VGN evidence is not equally accepted in courts at the same level as HGN evidence.

Attorney Monte Robbins has been certified in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST’s) by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) at the same level as Colorado Police Officers. If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI or DUWAI, call Attorney Robbins immediately for a free case evaluation at 303-355-5148 or 970-301-5541.