DUI defense in WA

Vancouver Field Sobriety Test Explained, WA

Contesting DUI field sobriety tests that were improperly given in Washington state

The lights start flashing. The police wave you off the road. The officer takes your registration and license information. After that, the next thing the officer will do is ask you to take three field sobriety tests. If you fail any of these the tests, the officer will ask you to submit to a breath test. If you fail either the field sobriety tests or the breath test, you will likely be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). If convicted of a DUI, you’ll face mandatory prison or home detention time, huge fines, expensive insurance premiums – and your driver’s license will be suspended.

At Philbrook Law Office, PS, our Vancouver, Washington DUI defense lawyers challenge every part of the prosecutor’s case. These challenges include questioning whether the officer had reason to give the field sobriety tests in the first place, whether the correct tests were given, and whether the officer gave the tests correctly. Any failures can result in a dismissal or an acquittal. Any questions about any aspect of your case can also be used to help the prosecutor reduce your charges to a less serious offense.

What are the three types of field sobriety tests?

Police officers can’t give you just any tests to determine if you were driving while intoxicated. They must give tests that are approved by the state of Washington. There are three standard field sobriety tests (SFSTs) that are usually used by police officers who suspect you of driving while under the influence of alcohol. The tests are:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. This test analyzes whether you can focus your gaze at different angles. The HGN test also analyzes if you are able to track an object like a flashlight.
  • The Walk and Turn (WAT) test. This test is one often shown in TV shows and movies. The driver is asked to walk nine steps, heel-to-toe, in one direction. The driver then must turn on one foot and do the same nine-step walk in the reverse directions. Signs of driver impairment include a driver who:
    • Can’t keep his/her balance
    • Begins walking before the police officer finishes the instructions
    • Stops to rebalance oneself
    • Uses his/her arms to keep his/her balance
    • Doesn’t walk in a straight line
    • Turns improperly
    • Takes more than, or less than, nine steps
    • Can’t walk in his/her toes or heels
  • The One Leg Stand (OLS) test. Here, the driver needs to stand on one foot and count backwards from 1,000 for about 30 seconds or until instructed to stop. If the driver can’t keep his/her balance, hops around, or miscounts – he/she will be considered to have failed the test.

Do you have to submit to the field sobriety tests?

There is no requirement for taking field sobriety tests – but the failure to take the tests can be used against you in your DUI case. The failure to take the test can also result in a license suspension because drivers do give their consent to field sobriety tests and breath tests.

The advantage of declining the test is that once the evidence of a failure is introduced, the burden shifts onto the driver to provide a defense. If you refuse the test, there’s no evidence of failure. The burden is usually on the prosecution to provide some additional evidence.

Challenging SFSTs in DUI stops

Our experienced criminal defense lawyers in Vancouver, WA seek to have evidence of failure to take or to pass a field sobriety test – at suppression hearings or at your trial – based on the following arguments:

  • The police officer did not have reasonable grounds to stop you. The officer must see you swerve, speed, or do something irregular before he/she can pull you over.
  • The officer gave you other field sobriety tests than the three standard field sobriety tests.
  • The police officer did not give you proper instructions on what you should do.
  • There is a reason why you failed the test – such as that you have leg injury or an ear problem that affects your balance.

Officers in Washington are trained by National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) officials. There’s no excuse for failing to give a proper field sobriety test.

Experienced DUI defense lawyers in Vancouver, WA

At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver, Washington DUI defense lawyers have obtained numerous dismissals and plea reductions for our clients. We assert all possible defenses on your behalf including contesting the admissibility of field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests. In many cases, we’ve helped clients stay out of jail on a DUI charge. To make an appointment at one of our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA, please call 360-695-3309 or complete our contact form. We also serve the greater Portland area and Oregon State.


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