If a Louisiana police officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, chances are he or she suspects you of drunk driving. The moment you pulled over, the officer detained you and you are no longer free to leave the scene unless the officer grants permission. Once you step out of your car, you may have a lot at stake, including perhaps, your freedom. Police often use three tests to determine probable cause to make DWI arrests. These are known as field sobriety tests.
You’re not legally obligated to take an FST; however, if you refuse, you can expect legal complications down the line should you wind up facing DWI charges in court. It’s best to be as prepared as possible regarding what to expect if a patrol officer asks you to walk a line, stand on one leg or follow a pen light with your eyes. If you fail one of these tests, you may land in jail, in which case knowing where to seek support can help protect your rights.
The ins and outs of FSTs — and what to do if you fail one
A police officer typically uses an FST to observe your physical and cognitive state. Each test serves the same purpose: to determine if you appear intoxicated. In Louisiana, the law prohibits you from operating a motor vehicle if your blood alcohol content level is .08 or higher. Police use FSTs to determine if your behavior provides evidence that warrants a DWI arrest. The following information explains how each test works:
- The one-leg stand test is difficult to perform even if you’re sober. An officer may ask you to stand on one leg with arms held at a certain distance from your body or the ground while counting aloud in a series of numbers. If you start hopping around to try to keep your balance, you fail. If you sway, can’t count and perform the task simultaneously or otherwise botch the test, the officer may arrest you on drunk driving suspicion.
- In a walk-and-turn test, you’ll likely have to walk a straight line for a specific number of steps. If the officer tells you to take 20 steps forward and you only take 15, things may get a lot worse before they get better. You will also have to place the heel of one foot in front of the toes on the other while holding your arms at shoulder length to your sides.
- The most scientific of the three most common FSTs is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Its purpose is to show whether your eyes move erratically before they’ve reached their maximum gaze points when tracking an object with your eyes only, not your head. It’s natural for eyes to jerk once they’ve reached maximum peripheral or vertical gaze points; however, if your eyes jerk sooner, the officer may take it as a sign of intoxication.
The thing is you may have a health condition, vision problem or past injury that impedes your ability to perform well on a particular FST. Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee you will not face a DWI arrest, especially if the officer in question fails to ask ahead of time if there is any reason you cannot perform the test.
Getting things back on track if an arrest takes place
In addition to calling your family to see if they can help you, it’s also a good idea to speak with someone well versed in criminal defense law so you clearly understand your rights and can make informed decisions to determine what the best course of action might be.