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Field Sobriety Tests

Wisconsin Drunk Driving

Field sobriety tests consist of the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn test, and the one legged stand. There are many flaws in the design of the tests which were created by the National Highway Safety people through the California Highway Patrol. Their original design was to standardize tests so that law enforcement could tell whether a person’s blood alcohol content was over .10. It has become more of a Simon says game that police play in order to show lack of physical dexterity and blame that lack of dexterity on alcohol or drugs. The State Patrol publishes a DWI Detection and Standard Field Sobriety Testing manual to teach law enforcement how to perform the tests.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

The eye test is looking for nystagmus. Nystagmus is a jerking of the eye. Nystagmus can be caused by a number of natural conditions, a bump on the head, and can be present after the consumption of alcohol for up to 24 hours. Law Enforcement will testify that this is an autonomic response, not able to be controlled consciously. Law enforcement look for six clues.

  • 1. Lack of smooth pursuit in the right eye.
  • 2. Lack of smooth pursuit in the left eye.
  • 3. Nystagmus before 45 degrees in the right eye.
  • 4. Nystagmus before 45 degrees in the left eye.
  • 5. Nystagmus at maximum deviation in the right eye.
  • 6. Nystagmus at the maximum deviation in the left eye.

Walk and Turn

The clues law enforcement looks for in the walk and turn test are:

  • 1. Cannot keep balance while listening to instructions, meaning that the suspect does not maintain the heel to toe position throughout the instructions.
  • 2. Starts the test before the instructions are finished.
  • 3. Suspect stops while walking to steady self.
  • 4. Does not touch heel to toe by more than a ½ inch on any step.
  • 5. Steps off the line.
  • 6. Uses arms to balance. The suspect raises one or both arms more than 6 inches from the sides in order to maintain balance.
  • 7. Improper turn. The suspect removes the front foot from the line while turning, or the suspect moves both feet, or several directions were not followed while turning. For example, if the suspect pivots in one movement instead of several small steps, this counts as a clue.
  • 8. Incorrect number of steps. If the suspect takes more or less than nine steps it is a clue. Making the same error multiple times does not count as multiple clues.

One Legged Stand

Law enforcement are looking for four clues in this test.

  • 1. The suspect sways while balancing.
  • 2. Suspect uses arms for balance. Suspect moves arms more than 6 inches from his side in order to maintain balance.
  • 3. Suspect hops.
  • 4. Suspect puts foot down before 30 seconds has elapsed.
A good cross examination will show that most people struggle to perform these tests and that there are non-alcohol related reasons for each and every clue.



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