DUI Defenses: Fighting Your SC DUI When You Failed the Field Sobriety Tests

When you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, building a comprehensive defense strategy is absolutely essential. Prosecutors may have several forms of evidence available, and even if you can successfully challenge one piece of evidence, the remaining evidence may still be enough to establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Then, there is the fact that prosecutors have two ways to prove a DUI charge in South Carolina. Under the state’s DUI statute, you can be found guilty if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit or your “faculties to drive are materially and appreciably impaired.” Prosecutors do not need to prove both.

As a result, while many people focus on their BAC, challenging your BAC reading alone may not be enough to protect you. If you took the field sobriety tests (FSTs), you may need to challenge your FST results as well (in addition to challenging any other evidence prosecutors have in their possession).

Challenging Your Field Sobriety Test Results: The Officer Administered the Tests Improperly

One way to challenge your field sobriety test results is by demonstrating that your arresting officer administered the tests improperly. Police officers must take several steps to properly administer each of the three FSTs—and, if they don’t take all of these steps, this can render your test results unreliable.

The steps police officers must take when administering the field sobriety tests include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

  • Hold the stimulus approximately 12 to 15 inches from the nose and just above eye level.
  • Check for equal pupil size and resting nystagmus.
  • Check for equal tracking and smooth movement in both eyes, then repeat.
  • Check for each eye being held at maximum deviation for a minimum of four seconds, then repeat.
  • Check that each eye moves slowly from the center to 45 degrees, then repeat.
  • Check for vertical gaze nystagmus, then repeat.

Walk and Turn

  • Instruct the suspect to place their feet on a line, heel-to-toe with arms at their sides.
  • Ask if the suspect understands the instructions.
  • Tell the subject to take nine heel-to-toe steps.
  • Explain the turning procedure.
  • Tell the suspect to count steps out loud, look at their feet while walking, and not raise their arms.
  • Do not tell the suspect to stop once they begin.
  • Ask again if the suspect understood all of the instructions.

One Leg Stand

  • Instruct the suspect to stand straight, place their feet together, and hold their arms at their sides.
  • Ask if the suspect understands the instructions.
  • Tell the suspect to raise one leg approximately six inches off of the ground.
  • Tell the suspect to keep both legs straight and look at their elevated foot.
  • Tell the suspect to count seconds out loud until told to stop (up to 30 seconds).

If your arresting officer cannot testify that he or she took all of the required steps to properly administer the field sobriety tests during your DUI stop, this may be enough to keep your FST results out of court. But, even if the officer properly administered the FSTs, you may still have defenses available—as we discuss below.

Challenging Your Field Sobriety Test Results: Other Factors Render Your Results Unreliable

While the field sobriety tests can serve as evidence of intoxication in a DUI case, they are also notoriously unreliable. Several factors besides a person’s intoxication can lead to a “failure” of one or more of the FSTs. These include (but are not limited to) factors such as:

  • Medical conditions that affect a person’s balance.
  • Medical conditions that affect a person’s eye movement.
  • Wearing shoes or clothes that make it difficult to balance.
  • Walking or standing on gravel, muddy ground, or an angled shoulder.
  • Having headlights or bright sunlight in your eyes.
  • Not being able to see adequately in the dark.
  • Attempting to take the field sobriety tests in rainy or windy conditions.

If any of these factors (or any other non-alcohol-related factor) played a role in causing you to “fail” the field sobriety tests, then prosecutors should not be able to use your test results against you. In this scenario, your test results are not evidence of impairment, and they should not put you at risk for a life-altering conviction.

When considering these types of defenses, it is important to remember that you do not need to prove your innocence to avoid a conviction. The burden of proof always rests with the prosecution. So, if your attorney can raise the possibility that a non-alcohol-related factor led to your “failure” of the FSTs, this could be enough to keep your FST results from being used against you.

Challenging Your Field Sobriety Test Results: The Police Stopped You Without Reasonable Suspicion

A third option for challenging your field sobriety test results is challenging the reason for your traffic stop. To conduct a lawful traffic stop, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” that you committed (or are in the process of committing) a traffic violation or crime. Stopping you without reasonable suspicion violates your constitutional rights, and it can serve as grounds for a motion to have all of the evidence from your traffic stop excluded from your DUI trial.

As with all types of DUI defenses, determining how you can challenge your field sobriety test results requires an in-depth assessment of the facts of your case. To ensure that you are defending yourself by all means available, you should discuss your case with an experienced SC DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Request a Free and Confidential Consultation with a SC DUI Defense Lawyer

Do you need to know more about how to challenge your field sobriety test results after a DUI arrest in South Carolina? If so, we invite you to get in touch. With offices in Rock Hill, we handle DUI cases throughout South Carolina. To discuss your case with an experienced SC DUI defense lawyer in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or request a free consultation online now.

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