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Moncks Corner Legal Issues Blog

What is a standardized field sobriety test?

Officers have many tools they utilize when attempting to discern whether or not a driver has hit the road while intoxicated. Certain tools, such as breath analysis tests, often get a lot of press and media attention.

Other tools, like standardized field sobriety tests, often fall by the wayside. Despite that, you will likely run into this test before anything else, so it is important to understand what its purpose is and what the results mean for you.

Standardized and non-standardized testing

Very Well Mind examines field sobriety tests, and in particular, standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). These tests differ from non-standardized field sobriety tests in one crucial way: a unified rubric. All SFSTs get judged by the same rubric which gets used across the country. By comparison, non-standardized tests often end up judged solely by the officer who administered the test. This leaves a lot of room for bias, which can easily influence the results.

Because of this rubric and the requirements, only three SFSTs exist. They include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn and the one-legged stand. Each test checks your balance, coordination, ability to follow instructions and general temperament. It checks your physical reflexes and capabilities, too.

What happens if you fail?

But if you fail an SFST, do not be overly concerned. Courts have a strong awareness of the role officer bias often plays in even standardized versions of these tests. Because of that, the results often do not end up used as primary evidence.

Still, failing an SFST can open the door to other tests like breath or blood analysis tests. It is better to avoid failing the test, and if you do, you should have a strong defense to protect you moving forward in your case.