Maine police officers and State Troopers use a standard set of field sobriety tests when they stop a driver under the suspicion of operating under the influence (OUI). The purpose of these tests is to determine the state of the person in question. This is typically seen as a preliminary step for the officer to make a judgment on if intoxication is involved. You may see people on the side of the road with a police officer performing these tests – it does not mean that the person in question is guilt or intoxicated, rather it allows for a test that does not require a Breathalizer (Intoxylizer) which can take up to 15 minutes to register.
1. HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus)
You may have seen this before – it is when the officer holds an object, often a pen or their finger, and asks the driver to follow it with their eyes. The pen is then moved side to side while the officer watches how the driver’s eyes react. If the person is sober, their eyes should follow the pen easily and have no hesitation. Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, if the driver has been drinking, their eyes will involuntarily delay or twitch when asked to perform this test. The police officer is trained to watch for this discrepancy and can be used an indication of whether or not intoxication is involved. More information on the horizontal gaze nystagmus a.k.a. the pen test.
2. The One Legged Stand
This sobriety test asks the driver to stand on one leg by lifting up the other leg. The purpose of this test is to determine level of intoxication as it related to the balance processes. When a sober person stands on their leg, they should be able to hold their balance enough to maintain composure, whereas someone who is intoxicated will struggle to do this. Alcohol affects motor skills which go hand in hand with balance – the more one drinks the harder it is for their body to maintain that sense of balance. This can be a simple way for an officer to determine intoxication.
3. Walk and Turn
The Walk and Turn is a text that combines motor skills with coordination in a simple way. The test asks a driver to walk along a straight line, turn, and walk back to the officer. For someone who is sober, this is a very easy task to complete, as it requires minimum concentration beyond what normal walking would be. Alcohol affects the areas of the brain that deal with concentration and coordination, thus making it very difficult to put one foot directly in front of the other and maintain and straight line. During this test, someone who has been drinking may find it very hard to stay on the straight line and even topple over. The turning around also creates difficulty with intoxication, as it can make an intoxicated person dizzy. Police officers use this in order to determine level of intoxication in the driver and is the third sobriety test issued.
Police officers and State Trooper can perform other field sobriety tests that are designed to test the motor skills and coordination centers of the brain that alcohol affects. These three constitute the major tests that drivers in question will receive. It’s very important to know that the administration of sobriety tests, along with whether or not you even need to perform them can change the outcome of your OUI charge. Contact Nichols & Churchill with any questions and receive advice from some of the top Maine OUI Lawyers.