What Is A Field Sobriety Test In Colorado?

Field Sobriety Test In Colorado

Let’s face the fact – you really do not want to get pulled over by the police as a suspect for driving erratically after having a few drinks. A DUI conviction will wreak havoc with your life in ways that you just can’t imagine. If you do need to talk to an experienced Colorado Springs DUI lawyer, you can click HERE to start the help process.

Let’s see how a field sobriety test works in Colorado.

In Colorado, a field sobriety test (FST) refers to a series of tests administered by law enforcement officers roadside to determine if a driver is impaired – usually a DUI. These tests are designed to assess the physical and cognitive abilities of a driver, which can be adversely affected by alcohol or other substances. The results of FSTs can be used to establish probable cause for arrest under suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI).

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has standardized three field sobriety tests that are commonly used by law enforcement officers in Colorado and throughout the United States:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

The officer will ask the suspect to follow an object (usually a pen or a small flashlight) with their eyes. As the object moves horizontally, the officer looks for involuntary jerking of the eyes (nystagmus), which can become pronounced under the influence of alcohol.

Walk-and-Turn Field Sobriety Test

This test requires the suspect to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. Officers assess the suspect’s ability to follow directions, maintain balance, and execute the movements as instructed.

The One-Leg Stand Test

The individual is asked to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down, typically after 30 seconds. Officers watch for balance, swaying, hopping, or using arms to balance, which are indicators of impairment.

Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

In addition to the standardized tests, officers might use other non-standardized tests to further evaluate impairment. These can include:

  • Rhomberg Balance Test – The individual is required to stand feet together, tilt the head back slightly, and close their eyes while estimating the passage of 30 seconds.
  • Finger-to-Nose Test – The suspect must close their eyes and touch their nose with the tip of their index finger.

Reliability and Controversy Of A Field Sobriety Test

While FSTs are widely used, their reliability can be subject to various factors, including the individual’s physical condition, nervousness, weather conditions, and the subjective judgment of the officer conducting the test. For these reasons, the results of field sobriety tests can be contested in court.

Legal Implications Of The Field Sobriety Test

Refusal to participate in field sobriety tests in Colorado does not carry the same penalties as refusing a chemical test (such as a breathalyzer or blood test), which can result in mandatory license suspension under Colorado’s Express Consent Law. However, refusal to perform FSTs can still be used as evidence in court, potentially supporting an officer’s testimony regarding observed signs of impairment.

Field sobriety tests are a critical tool in law enforcement’s efforts to identify and reduce the incidence of impaired driving. They provide immediate, roadside assessments that can support decisions about arrests and further testing, thereby playing a significant role in DUI enforcement strategies.

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