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Field Sobriety Tests in Tennessee


driving under the influence

In Tennessee, field sobriety tests (FSTs) are commonly used by law enforcement officers to assess whether a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Here’s what you need to know about field sobriety tests in Tennessee:


Types of Field Sobriety Tests


There are three standardized field sobriety tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):


  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

    • Procedure: The officer asks the driver to follow a small object, such as a pen or flashlight, with their eyes while keeping their head still. The officer looks for involuntary jerking of the eyes, which can indicate intoxication.

    • Signs of Impairment: Lack of smooth pursuit, distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, and nystagmus onset before 45 degrees.

  • Walk-and-Turn Test

    • Procedure: The driver is instructed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. The officer observes balance, coordination, and the ability to follow instructions.

    • Signs of Impairment: Inability to maintain balance during instructions, starting too soon, stopping while walking, missing heel-to-toe steps, stepping off the line, using arms for balance, making an improper turn, or taking an incorrect number of steps.

  • One-Leg Stand Test

    • Procedure: The driver is asked to stand on one leg and count aloud from 1,001 until told to stop, usually for about 30 seconds. The officer observes the driver’s ability to maintain balance.

    • Signs of Impairment: Swaying, using arms to balance, hopping, or putting the foot down.


Non-Standardized Tests


In addition to the standardized tests, officers might use non-standardized tests such as:


  • Finger-to-Nose Test: The driver touches their nose with the tip of their finger while their eyes are closed.

  • Alphabet Test: The driver recites a portion of the alphabet.

  • Counting Test: The driver counts backward from a specific number.


Legal Considerations


  • Implied Consent

    • By driving in Tennessee, drivers have given implied consent to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) if arrested for DUI. However, field sobriety tests are not covered under implied consent laws.

    • Drivers can refuse to take field sobriety tests, but refusal might lead to arrest based on other observed signs of impairment.

  • Use in Court

    • Results from field sobriety tests can be used as evidence in court to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest and to demonstrate impairment.

    • However, FSTs are subjective and can be challenged based on factors like the officer's administration of the tests, environmental conditions, and the driver's physical or medical conditions.

  • Challenging FST Results

    • An experienced DUI attorney can challenge the results of FSTs by questioning the officer’s training, the conditions under which the tests were conducted, and any alternative explanations for the driver’s performance.


What to Do If Pulled Over


  • Cooperate with the Officer: Be polite and follow the officer’s instructions.

  • Know Your Rights: Understand that you have the right to refuse field sobriety tests, but be aware that refusal could lead to arrest based on other observations.

  • Seek Legal Counsel: If you are arrested for DUI, it’s important to contact an attorney who specializes in DUI defense to help navigate the legal process and protect your rights.


Understanding these aspects of field sobriety tests in Tennessee can help drivers make informed decisions and better understand their rights and responsibilities during a traffic stop.



Have you been charged with DUI? William Cain can represent you. Click below to reach out.



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