Washington Field Sobriety Tests
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DUI Field Sobriety Tests

There are many field sobriety tests police officers use to evaluate a DUI suspect. No field test is reliable to detect impairment, but courts allow the use of field sobriety tests to establish probable cause to make an arrest for further evidence gathering. That further evidence is a breath of blood test analyzed to detect the breath alcohol content or blood alcohol content.

Sobriety Tests

In Washington State the investigating police officer must inform the DUI suspect that these physical field sobriety tests are voluntary. An individual does have a right to refuse participation in these tests. There are no legal consequences in refusing these tests.

Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are NHTSA standardized field sobriety tests and then there are many other tests that did not meet the standardization requirements of NHTSA. These latter tests include the Alphabet, Counting Backwards, Finger to Nose, Finger Dexterity, and the Rhomberg Balance test. For all of these tests the police officer will request the DUI suspect to stand with their feet together and to keep their hands at their sides. The DUI suspect will look forward while the police officer provides test instructions. The DUI suspect cannot start any field sobriety test until the police officer states, "Begin."

Alphabet Test

The individual is instructed to state the alphabet from "A" to "Z" without singing or stopping. They must remain in the upright standing position without moving their feet or arms. The police officer looks for a failure state a letter, repeating a letter, stating the alphabet in an improper order, singing the alphabet or the inability to complete the task. The police officer is also looking for the inability to keep balance or if the DUI suspect sways while performing the field sobriety test.

Backwards Count

Some law enforcement agencies will require a DUI suspect to perform the backward count field sobriety test. The suspect is told to stand in the position noted above while counting backwards from "53" to "36." The police officer is looking for any missed numbers, repeated numbers, or failure to stop at the correct number. They also look for balance issues and any sway while standing.

Finger to Nose

Again the DUI suspect stands with their feet together and arms at their sides. They must keep their head looking forward, but they must close their eyes during the test. The police officer will state either, "left" or "right." When the officer states, "right" the DUI suspect must bring their right pointed index finger to the tip of their nose. They must touch the tip of the finger to the tip of the nose. Any deviation is failure. The sequence is usually left, right left, right, right, left. Many DUI suspects will raise their left hand initially during the third "right" request. Most individual cannot touch tip to tip either. They usually miss by a mere inch or inches.

Finger Dexterity

The DUI suspect must touch his thumb to each finger on the same hand in consecutive order while counting, "1, 2, 3, 4." The DUI suspect then must reverse the order and count back, "4, 3, 2, 1." The DUI suspect must complete this entire action three times. The police officer looks for any missed thumb to finger touching and any failure to count properly according to the field sobriety test instructions.

Rhomberg Balance

The DUI suspect must stand with their feet together, and arms at their sides. They must tilt their head back and close their eyes. When the police officer says, "begin" the suspect must estimate the passage of 30 seconds. When the DUI suspect believes 30 seconds has past, they will bring their head forward, open their eyes and state that they are finished. The police officer looks for eye tremors, any body swaying during the test, if the DUI suspect finishes before 30 seconds or finished after 30 seconds.

Proceed to the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.


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