Failing field sobriety tests no guarantee of DUI conviction in Miami

Many motorists charged with DUI in South Florida mistakenly believe that doing poorly on field sobriety tests means there is little chance of beating a drunk driving charge in Miami or the surrounding area.

This is simply not the case. Field sobriety tests are nothing more than a subjective opinion about whether or not you are intoxicated made by a police officer whose job it is to gather evidence of your guilt! Nor is it likely that you will perform so well that you will avoid a DUI charge. Typically (read always) an officer has decided to charge you with drunk driving by the time you are asked to perform sobriety testing, and is simply gathering evidence to be used against you in court.

Miami DUI defense lawyers remind motorists they are under no obligation to even agree to perform the tests. And the results are frequently successfully challenged in court. While officers like to have motorists recite their ABCs and perform other silly tasks, there are really only three field sobriety tests that are approved and recognized for use nationwide.

The criteria upon which these tests are judged can get complicated, and this is by no means a thorough discussion. In fact, it is not unusual for a defense lawyer to have more knowledge and a better understanding of the tests than the law enforcement officer who administers them — another solid reason to consult an attorney in the wake of a DUI charge.

In general: Each test is designed to determine balance, coordination and the ability to follow instructions.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus: This is the pen test. Or the eye test. In short, the officer is watching to see if your eyes move back and forth smoothly or if they constantly try to return to the center or “rest” position while following a moving object such as a pen or light.


Walk the line:
This test involves a heal-to-toe walk and turn. The officer is observing balance, the number of steps taken, the way the individual turns and how well they stayed on the line.

One-legged stand: This involves standing with one leg outstretched six inches off the ground for 30 seconds. In this test the officer is looking for sway, balance and the ability to complete the test.

The fact of the matter is that it is not unusual for sober people to fail these tests. Some people simply do not have good balance. Maybe they have flat feet, ill-fitting shoes or poor equilibrium. It doesn’t mean we should convict them of driving drunk.

What is most often problematic in a DUI arrest are the statements made by a defendant. Being intoxicated and under arrest is not the state most conducive to being witty. Or aggressive. Or morose. Or tearful. Or angry. Or violent. The words and actions of a defendant are much more likely to be damaging than the results of all the field sobriety tests an officer cares to conduct.

We recommend polite silence.