Challenging Field Sobriety Tests in North Carolina

If a police officer suspects you may be operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may pull you over and ask you to perform a field sobriety test (FST). Police officers widely use these tests to determine whether a driver has been drinking. Many individuals may feel intimidated at the prospect of challenging a field sobriety test. However, it is essential to know your rights in the event you are asked to test.

If you are facing DWI charges in North Carolina, it is essential to have a highly-qualified DWI defense attorney in your corner. At King Law, our attorneys understand the limits to FSTs and will use this information to protect your rights. When you partner with us, you can have peace of mind that your case is in the capable hands of a legal expert.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests? (FSTs)

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are exercises administered by police officers to determine the sobriety of an individual they suspect to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. FSTs can be unreliable because they rely entirely on the officer’s judgment of your performance rather than a pass or fail system. If an officer fails to administer or read the test correctly, it may not be a good indicator of your level of impairment. Some standardized FSTs an officer may ask you to perform include:

  • The Horizontal Nystagmus Test: During this test, the officer will ask you to follow a pen or other object with your eyes. The officer will be observing for involuntary twitching of the eye, a symptom of intoxication. 
  • The One Leg Stand Test: The officer may ask you to stand on one leg for at least five seconds. The purpose of this test is to determine how well you are able to balance and follow instructions. 
  • The Walk and Turn Test: You may be asked to take nine heel-toe steps in a straight line before turning and taking nine steps in the opposite direction. During this test, the officer will be gauging your ability to balance and follow instructions.

While these tests are standardized by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), an officer may ask you to perform a non-standardized test. The use of non-standardized FSTs is not approved in North Carolina. However, many police officers still use them. An example of a non-standardized FST is reciting the alphabet or being asked to place your finger on your nose. These tests are even less accurate than standardized FSTs, and an experienced attorney can ask to make these tests inadmissible during your trial.

Can I Legally Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, you have the right to decline any roadside sobriety test such as a standardized FST or breathalyzer test without consequence. However, these protections are only limited to roadside tests. If the officer asks you to take a breathalyzer test at the police station, you must comply. Refusing to take the test will result in an automatic one-year license suspension. 

Anything you do or say can be used against you when you are being investigated for a DWI, including an FST. Invoking your right to refuse an FST may be your best option when you are pulled over since factors like nerves and medical conditions unrelated to your impairment may affect the outcome of the test.

Ways to Challenge a Field Sobriety Test

Before subjecting you to an FST, the officer should ask you if you have any medical conditions that may interfere with the test. However, many officers fail to do so, leading to inaccurate results. If you have a medical condition that may mimic the effects of impairment, your attorney can challenge the validity of the FST in court. Some medical conditions that may cause you to appear impaired include:

  • Diabetes
  • Exhaustion
  • High or low blood sugar
  • Allergies
  • Physical injuries that may cause pain or balance issues

Additionally, your attorney may be able to challenge your FST for non-medical reasons, including:

  • The roadway was sloped or wet, causing inaccurate results
  • The defendant is known to have poor coordination
  • The officer could not have known how the defendant would perform the test impaired versus sober

Your attorney will work with you to understand the facts of your case so they can develop the best defense strategy for your unique situation.

Discuss Your Case With an Expert DWI Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a DWI in North Carolina, the experienced attorneys at King Law can help. Our attorneys are committed to providing first-class legal representation to our clients across North Carolina and protecting the rights of the accused. We are dedicated to taking a personalized approach to every case to build meaningful relationships with our clients as we defend them against the charges they face. To learn more about how we can help you, give us a call at (888) 748-5464 (KING) or reach out through our contact form today.