Could You Pass the Florida DUI Field Tests Sober?

The answer is maybe, but maybe not. It depends on a number of factors, some of which are well out of your control. The biggest of these is the opinion (and mood!) of the police officer administering the tests. 

The results of many performance-oriented tests rely on hands on assessment by a panel of judges. Take certain professional sports, like gymnastics, for example. When a gymnast performs for the judges, their collective score determines whether she wins or loses the entire competition. When you perform field sobriety tests, the police are the judges, and how they score your performance determines whether you’re arrested or set free.

While neither scenario may seem entirely fair, at least in professional sports the judges are qualified. They’re experts in their sport, and are usually former players themselves—meaning they’ve done the moves and know what to look for. But when it comes to field sobriety tests, every single cop on the force has the right to administer them and judge the results. No special experience or skillset necessary. What’s even worse is that there’s no panel, and no average score calculation. The opinion of one unqualified officer determines your entire fate.  

And it’s safe to say many non-alcohol related factors can work against you.

One of the tests administered is called the One-Leg Stand Test. For this test you are required to stand on one leg with the other lifted 6 inches off the ground for 30 seconds while counting by thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.). Now, how many people have trouble balancing on one leg? A lot. Plenty of people start wobbling as soon as one leg comes off the ground even with no alcohol in their system. But simple acts people normally use to help achieve balance, such as holding out your arms and swaying both count against you and can result in a failed test.

And what if you have an injury the officer doesn’t know about? What if you pulled a muscle, or twisted your knee? If there’s no cast or bandage to indicate injury, all that will matter is whether the cop believes you or not. And the One-Leg Stand test is already only 65% accurate with healthy individuals. That means the odds of passing are definitely not in your favor.

Studies have shown that many sober people are unable to perform the Field Tests well enough to pass.

  • In one study 23% of sober people were deemed under the influence based on their performance.
  • Another study conducted by Dr. Spurgeon of Clemson University tested how well police officers could determine who was over or under the legal limit by watching them perform 6 different standard field sobriety tests. After watching, the officers in the study indicated that 46% of participants were legally intoxicated. But in actuality, none of the people performing the field tests had consumed any alcohol at all. That means the police were wrong 46% of the time.

Thankfully DUI tests are not the be all end all in a case. They can be challenged based on a number of factors, including:

  • Inadequate officer training
  • Failure to properly administer the tests
  • Inappropriate grading
  • False positive results
  • Medical condition impairing performance ability
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Hearing
  • Environmental conditions

You are not required to take the field sobriety tests, and in many cases you shouldn’t. Even if you’re sure you are sober enough to pass, or you think you have inhumanly good balance, your passing is still not a sure thing. Studies show even 100% sober people can still fail, so why risk it? Play it safe and call a lawyer. 

Adam Rossen
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South Florida Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney
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