When the police pull you over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) in South Carolina, they will typically ask you to take the field sobriety tests. Unlike the breathalyzer test, you are not required to take the field sobriety tests under South Carolina law. However, if you take the field sobriety tests, prosecutors can use your results against you, and this can potentially lead to a conviction in court.
As a result, if you “failed” any of the field sobriety tests during your DUI stop, you will need to challenge your test results by all means available. While individual circumstances vary, there are several ways that a DUI defense lawyer may be able to challenge your field sobriety test results on your behalf.
Here are some examples:
1. The Officer Administered the Tests Improperly
There are three standardized field sobriety tests: (i) the one-leg stand test, (ii) the walk-and-turn test, and (iii) the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Each of these standardized tests has a specific set of guidelines for how it is to be administered—and police officers in South Carolina are trained on how to administer these tests during DUI traffic stops.
Even so, the police don’t always administer the field sobriety tests properly. Whether they skip steps or ignore the guidelines entirely, officers can (and do) make various mistakes on the side of the road. If your arresting officer did not properly administer the field sobriety tests, then your test results may be unreliable and inadmissible in court.
2. The Officer Failed to Provide Adequate Instructions
When administering the field sobriety tests, police officers must provide adequate instructions. During your DUI traffic stop, the officer should have explained what you needed to do step-by-step. If the officer’s instructions were not clear, if the officer omitted certain instructions, or if you didn’t understand what you needed to do in order to “pass” the field sobriety tests, this could provide a defense in your DUI case as well.
3. Road, Traffic, or Weather Conditions Impacted Your Performance
Road, traffic, and weather conditions can all impact your ability to perform the field sobriety tests. When administering the tests, police officers look for certain indicators of alcohol impairment; but, while these indicators may indicate impairment, they can result from other factors as well. For example:
- Road Conditions – If the road surface is uneven, if the road is covered in gravel, or if the shoulder slants away from the road, these are all factors that could make it difficult for you to maintain your balance on the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn tests.
- Traffic Conditions – If cars are rushing by, this can distract you and cause you to lose your balance. Bright headlights on an approaching vehicle can also cause your eyes to dart toward the road. Since the police look for smooth eye movement during the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, this can result in a “failure” even if you are simply reacting to your surroundings.
- Weather Conditions – Rain, wind, and other weather conditions can all impair your ability to perform well on the field sobriety tests. If there is any possible alternate explanation for your poor performance on the field sobriety tests, the prosecution shouldn’t be able to use your test results as evidence against you.
4. Your Shoes, Clothing, or Health Condition Impacted Your Performance
In addition to the road, traffic, and weather conditions, there are many other factors that can impact your performance on the field sobriety tests. All of the following are possible defenses to poor field sobriety test performance in a South Carolina DUI case:
- Unstable shoes
- Loose or tight clothing
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Hip, knee, and ankle injuries
- Flu and other illnesses
These are just examples. If you believe any factor other than alcohol intoxication negatively impacted your performance on the field sobriety tests during your DUI stop, you should discuss this with your defense attorney.
5. The Officer Failed to Properly Observe You
Police officers must carefully observe drivers throughout their performance of each of the three field sobriety tests. If the officer who arrested you looked away, got distracted by a call, or just generally wasn’t paying attention, he or she could have missed clues that indicated that you were not intoxicated. If dash camera footage shows this, then the footage could be key evidence in your DUI case.
6. The Officer’s Subjective Assessment was Flawed
Police officers’ assessments of drivers’ performance on the field sobriety tests are inherently subjective. There are no measurements, and the field sobriety tests do not produce any data. If it is possible that your arresting officer simply misinterpreted your performance, this could be enough to keep your field sobriety test results out of your DUI case as well.
7. Your DUI Stop was Illegal
Finally, if your DUI stop was illegal, then all of the evidence gathered during and after your stop (including your field sobriety test results, your breathalyzer test results, and anything you said to the arresting officer) could be legally inadmissible. The police are not above the law; and, if they violate the law, any evidence they obtain as a result can potentially be kept out of court. But, this will not happen automatically—it is up to you to hire a defense lawyer who can effectively assert your legal rights.
A DUI stop is illegal if the police pull you over without “reasonable suspicion”. This includes pulling you over based on your race, color, or gender. There are other possibilities as well, and an experienced DUI defense lawyer will be able to examine the circumstances surrounding your traffic stop to determine if this is a defense you have available.
Discuss Your Case with Rock Hill DUI Defense Lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr.
Are you facing a South Carolina DUI charge? If so, you should discuss your case with a lawyer promptly. To request an appointment with Rock Hill DUI defense lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr., call 803-328-8822 or contact us online now.