Three Types of Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland

If pulled over in Maryland believed to be under the influence by the arresting officer, you will likely be administered one of the following field sobriety tests. To learn more about these tests and what they could mean for your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Maryland DUI lawyer today.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The first field test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test which is a test of the driver’s eyes. The thought process behind this test is that when someone has consumed a certain volume of alcohol it will impact their eyes and the way they track a stimulus, which in this case will typically be a pen or something similar. The officer has the person follow typically their pen and will ask them to track it using only their eyes and not moving their head, while the officer is looking for nystagmus, which is involuntary jerking of the eye. The officer is going to look and see if there is nystagmus and at what angle the nystagmus begins and is most pronounced. For someone who hasn’t consumed alcohol, their eyeball should move very smoothly, for someone who has had to much to drink however there will be jerking and twitching as the eyeball tracks the pen.

Under the current law  in Maryland at this point, an officer is not going to be able to testify about the results of an HGN unless that officer can somehow be designated as an expert in HGN.  However, there  can still be  relevant testimony that the officer could offer regarding that test.  For example, if the driver could not comprehend the instructions, then that could be evidence that the alcohol has impacted their ability to drive a car. Additionally, if they get belligerent with the officer and say hostile or inappropriate things to the officer, the officer can still testify to that at trial, but the officer typically cannot testify to the results of an HGN test because most of these officers cannot be qualified as experts in that.

Walk and Turn Test

The second test is the 9-step walk and turn test. To administer this test, first the officer will ask the driver to stand in a particular position, which is called the instructional phase which in this case is standing with one foot in front of the other, and remain standing that way while the officer begins instructing the driver about the rest of the test. So immediately, the officer is watching to see if the driver can maintain standing in this position or if they are swaying or having to move their feet to regain balance. All of this is information that an attorney can testify to at trial.

The officer then instructs the driver that they are to take 9 steps, walking heel to toe, before turning around and coming back the same way. There are many different things that the officer is looking for:

  • Does the driver actually touch heel to toe on each step?
  • Does the driver take 9 steps or does he take more or less?
  • Does the driver perform the turn as instructed and at any time during that, does the driver has to sway or lift his arms in order to maintain his balance?
  • Does he have to step off of the line that he was walking?

All of that is information that the officer can testify to at trial and it happens frequently.

There are cases where people don’t take the right amount of steps or they get halfway through and ask how many steps they are supposed to take. All of which can be used as evidence to prove that their coordination has been impaired.

One Leg Stand Test

The third test is the one-leg stand test. When administering this test, the officer again will instruct the person exactly how to stand while he instructs the person how to perform the test and that test requires the driver to lift one foot. The driver must lift their foot 6 inches off the ground with their toe pointing up while focusing on their toe and counting in a particular way as instructed by the officer. All of this is geared towards looking to see if the person’s coordination has somehow been impacted by alcohol.

If the person cannot stand for the designated amount of time or if they begin hopping because they are losing their balance. or  if they put their foot down because they can’t keep one foot up in the air.  All of these are clues that the officer can then testify to in court related to the individual’s coordination