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Field Sobriety Testing for DUI Arrests in Washington and Seattle

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field Sobriety Tests, also known as Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), are a battery of tests the law enforcement officer will request that you complete, usually while on the side of the road, so that he can “make sure you aren't too impaired to drive.” These tests are completely voluntary and you have the option to decline them. The SFST's do not satisfy any court requirement and will usually end up doing you more harm then good in giving the officer evidence to be used against you to make an arrest.

3 Main Standard Field Sobriety Tests

There are 3 main SFST's that are employed by most of the law enforcement agencies in Washington State.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – Standard Field Sobriety Test

Washington State DUI Field Sobriety Tests
The first is one of the most well known among civilians – the officer waiving a pen in front of your face and telling you to follow it with your eyes. This test is known as Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). The officer will slowly move a stimulus (usually a pen) in front of your eye (right to left, or left to right) to determine whether your eyes are able to track the pen in a smooth manner (checking for nystagmus – an involuntary jerking of your eyes).

Walk and Turn – Standard Field Sobriety Test

The second test that will usually be asked to complete is the Walk and Turn. The officer will have you stand in a starting position while you are listening to his instructions. You will then take 9 heel-to-toe steps, turn and take 9 heel-to-toe steps back to the start line. This is considered a “Divided Attention” test (i.e you will need to concentrate on two things at one – listening to directions while maintaining the start position but not actually starting).

One Leg Stand – Standard Field Sobriety Test

The last of the SFST's is the One Leg Stand. Here the officer will have you maintain a start position while explaining the directions (another “dividend attention” test). Once the officer instructs you to begin, you will raise one leg approximately 6 inches off of the ground with your foot pointed out (think of a ballet dancer pointing her foot) and count out loud (one-one-thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand).

Supplemental Field Sobriety Tests

There are other field sobriety tests that can be requested of you, usually Seattle Police Department Officers will request you complete these tests in addition to the main three.

The other field sobriety tests include:

  • saying ABC's (not singing),
  • counting backwards between two numbers,
  • finger dexterity (finger to nose),
  • Romberg Test (you stand still with feet together, arms at sides, head back, and eyes closed – the officer will check for swaying).

All of the field sobriety tests – whether standard or supplemental – are voluntary. If you have been pulled over for DUI, whether or not you completed the field sobriety tests, you should speak with a DUI attorney to understand the charge you are facing and the next steps you should be taking.

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