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What Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion for Field Sobriety Tests?

When a motorist is stopped and the officer is suspicious of alcohol us, the suspect is normally asked to vacate the vehicle and asked to perform tests to determine physical dexterity and mental awareness. These tests are known as field sobriety tests. They normally consist of the following:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
Police officers will ask the suspect to look at an object, like a pen, while the object is moving back and forth. The officer is watching the eyes of the suspect looking for a lack of smooth pursuit. If nystagmus can be detected, the suspect will more than likely be arrested.

“Walk-and-Turn” Test
The walk and turn test is a divided attention test. To perform the test, you must take nine; heel-to-toe steps forward, pivot, then take nine heel-to-toe steps back. While performing this test, you are asked to count out loud the number of steps that you have taken.

“One-Legged” Test
The one-leg test is another divided attention test. The officer asks the driver to raise one foot six inches off the ground, count out loud until you’re told to stop, then look down, point your toe out, and keep you arms at your side.

When can an officer request a field sobriety test?
Many of our clients often ask what level of evidence is necessary for the officer to demand these tests. In other words, when you are pulled over for a traffic infringement, what must the officer notice in order to qualify reasonable suspicion? Despite popular belief, the smell of alcohol is not enough. Most courts require a combination of factors, including swerving of the vehicle, speeding, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and a strong odor of alcohol.

Often, a person is not initially pulled over wholly because of a suspicion of alcohol. A person is initially pulled over due to a minor traffic violation and upon closer inspection; an officer notices signs of driving while intoxicated. In the State v. Kliphouse, the Florida court stated the mere presence of an odor of alcohol alone is legally insufficient to form a basis for reasonable suspicion of impairment while operating a vehicle. Almost all police reports read like a guide and describe these three factors: bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, flushed face and/or slurred speech.

If you feel you’ve been unfairly demanded to submit to a field sobriety test, contact Casey Bryant, P.A. We’ll give your case the attention it deserves to ensure you are treated fairly by the Florida court system.


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