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How do field sobriety tests work in South Carolina?

One frequent theme in our Charleston DUI Law blog has been the subjectivity and inaccuracy of field sobriety tests. However, many South Carolina residents are probably unsure of exactly how these tests are supposed to be conducted. Earlier this week, Charleston's WCBD TV station spoke with deputies about just that.

Multi-step field sobriety tests are three steps, and they are supposed to be administered the same way by law enforcement officers throughout the country.

  1. First, an officer should ask the suspect whether he or she has any known health issues. Then the officer will administer the eye test, also called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus exam. The officer does this by holding an item, like a pen, in his or her hand and asking the suspect to follow the object with his or her eyes, without moving the head.
  2. If the suspect passes the eye test, the walking test is up next. In the walking test, the suspect is asked to take nine steps in a straight line, heel to toe, while counting out each step. The suspect is then asked to pivot and repeat the process. In this test, the officer focuses on whether the suspect is following the directions and completing the task.
  3. Finally, upon passing the first two tests, the suspect is asked to take a balance test. This includes an officer asking the suspect to balance on just one leg while holding the other six inches off the ground, while counting aloud for about 30 seconds.

At the end, the officer makes a subjective assessment about whether the suspect passed the test. If the officer believes the suspect passed, he or she should be released. If not, the suspect will then be transported to jail where he or she will be asked to take a Breathalyzer. However, even at this point, if a suspect has failed these tests a criminal defense attorney can call the results and charges into question.

Source: News 2, "Deputies explain field sobriety tests," Laura Hettiger, May 13, 2012

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