In Alabama, if you are stopped by police and are suspected of intoxicated driving, law enforcement officers may ask you to take a field sobriety test.
There are a standard battery of three tests which are generally accepted as appropriate field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test; the one-legged stand; and the walk-and-turn. These tests have been around since the 1970s and are approved by the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. They are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, or SFSTs for short.
If you are asked to take these tests, it is important to realize you do NOT have to take them. While Alabama has an implied consent laws requiring certain testing under appropriate circumstances for those accused of impaired driving, the state's implied consent laws do not mandate you take SFSTs. If you do take SFSTs, they usually are admissible in court if the proper tests were given, so you should think carefully about whether you wish to submit.
The HGN test involves following a slow moving object with your eyes, without turning your head. Police will watch your eyes as you follow the object. There are certain indicators which suggest impairment which police will look for, with the focus on determining if your eyes can smoothly follow the object.
The one-legged stand involves standing on one leg, and the walk-and-turn involves walking a straight line heel-to-toe and turning. If you take any of these tests, the evidence from your performance is usually admissible and can strengthen a prosecutor's case against you.
If law enforcement officers ask you to do other tests, like using your finger to touch your nose, counting backwards, or saying the alphabet backwards, these tests are not scientifically credible. The results generally should not be admitted into court and if prosecutors try to admit them, your drunk driving defense attorney should argue against it.
Whatever type of field sobriety tests you are asked to take, however, you can make the decision to decline the tests and cannot lose your license or face criminal or civil penalties for this refusal. This is not necessarily the case if you refuse other testing because Alabama has so-called implied consent laws. Implied consent laws essentially say you consent to blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) testing under certain circumstances simply by driving on Alabama's roads.
Alabama's implied consent laws, which are found in code section 32-5-192, require you to submit to a chemical test or blood test to determine alcohol content if you are lawfully arrested. The implied consent laws don't require you to agree to a field sobriety test under any circumstances.
If you have taken SFSTs and they are admitted in court, your defense attorney can cross examine the officers and try to cast doubt on whether the tests were correctly performed or whether the officer's assessment of your performance is accurate.
Your DWI defense attorney can also help you argue other factors may have caused you to perform poorly on a field sobriety test, such as a medical condition or nerves about the testing. The goal will be to undermine the evidence the prosecutor is using against you, so the SFSTs do not help convince a jury you are guilty of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt.