Countless factors will influence how well you perform on a field sobriety test. This includes your shoes. It might seem a little ridiculous to be talking about footwear in a blog about DUI—a serious criminal offense in Florida, but it is relevant, we promise.
Today we will discuss how high heels and other shoes can affect field sobriety test performance and DUI charges.
Why Field Sobriety Tests Exist
Field sobriety tests were created to gauge a suspected drunk driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions, as alcohol can compromise all of these things. When a person is pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the police officer may ask them some questions and then may ask that they step out of their vehicle to perform these tests. What happens next can directly impact whether the driver ends up facing DUI charges.
Even though DUI is most often associated with an unlawful blood alcohol content (BAC), which is .08% in Florida, there are scenarios where a driver can face DUI charges even if their BAC is below the legal limit. In these cases, the prosecution will rely on the officer’s testimony and any physical evidence of the driver’s performance of field sobriety tests.
What you must know about field sobriety tests, however, is that they are not 100% accurate. They test abilities that vary between every person, sober or not. Illness, attention deficit disorders, language barriers, poor lighting, and physical disabilities can affect a person’s performance on field sobriety tests. Even the shoes they wear can impact how well they can stand on one leg or walk in a straight line. We believe this makes field sobriety test results largely unreliable.
Shoes & “Failed” Walk-and-Turn or One-Leg Stand Tests
Today, a battery of three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) is used to determine whether a driver’s abilities are impaired by alcohol. These include the Walk-and-Turn, the One-Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Because the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test tracks the movement of the eyes, we’ll save its faults for another blog. Right now, we will focus on how shoes can affect the One-Leg Stand and the Walk-and-Turn, both of which are performed on your feet.
With the One-Leg Stand, the driver must stand on one leg with the other foot about six inches off the ground. They must then count aloud by thousands while looking at their foot, until the officer says to stop. Imagine performing this test while wearing shoes with any heel. Even a one-inch heel would make it difficult to balance, not to mention anything higher than that. You would sway and have trouble keeping your foot off the ground if you were stone-cold sober.
With the Walk-and-Turn, the driver must take nine steps, heel to toe, in one direction, pivot, and take nine more steps, heel-to-toe, in the other direction. The driver must do this while keeping their arms at their side and while counting their steps aloud. Hesitating, using arms to balance, taking the wrong number of steps, and stopping early are all signs an officer will look for in determining whether the driver is intoxicated. When you think about performing the Walk-and-Turn in a poorly lit or distracting environment (like the roadside) or while wearing high-heeled or simply uncomfortable shoes, it’s easy to see how any driver could fail, regardless of their blood alcohol content.
Challenging Field Sobriety Test Results
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the One-Leg Stand is about 65% accurate in determining intoxication. The Walk-and-Turn is about 66% accurate. These numbers indicate accuracy in the right conditions and with drivers who do not have physical limitations.
Even in ideal situations, these tests are not completely accurate. Some people, like those over the age of 65, those who are overweight or have physical disabilities, or those who have middle ear problems, should never be asked to perform these tests. They’re doomed to fail. Your attorney needs to use this information to show that field sobriety test performance was not an indication of intoxication in your case.
Ask a Tampa DUI Defense Attorney at Thomas & Paulk
Our Tampa DUI lawyers at Thomas & Paulk have been defending drivers’ rights across Florida for the past 20 years. We know how field sobriety tests work, how they are supposed to be administered, and why they aren’t accurate. We use this knowledge and our considerable trial experience to help each client challenge their DUI charges. If you were wearing high heels, if the ground was uneven, or if the officer administered the test incorrectly, we can use this information to show why your results should not be used against you. In cases like these, every single advantage must be taken to help you avoid a conviction and the serious penalties this will bring.
To learn more about field sobriety tests and DUI charges in Florida, call (813) 321-7323 or contact our Tampa DUI defense attorneys online. We’re here to help.