Alabama Field Sobriety Tests

Law enforcement officers may ask that you perform Alabama field sobriety tests on the side of the road in order to determine if you are impaired to the point that you cannot safely drive your automobile. You are not required to take these tests, and you can refuse.

If you do consent to taking the Alabama field sobriety tests, the police will typically request that you perform a series of tests. In Alabama there are only three tests that have been approved by the Alabama Department of Forensic Science as proper Alabama field sobriety tests. These tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the one legged stand, and the walk and turn test. These are discussed in more detail below.

Often the police will request that you perform other non-approved tests. Common test that are not approved, but which are used by police include reciting the alphabet, counting on your fingers, touching your nose with your finger, or estimating when 30 seconds have pasted while your eyes are closed. These are not approved Alabama field sobriety tests. They lack solid scientific basis and are not credible. These types of tests should not be allowed into evidence, but sometimes courts will allow them despite their lack of reliability. In that event it is crucial to have an criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in cross-examining officers regarding Alabama field sobriety tests. A proper cross examination can demonstrate that the tests are flawed and that the result cannot be relied upon to predict impairment.

Even when the police use the Alabama field sobriety test which are approved, a criminal defense lawyer can cross-examine the officer to demonstrate that the test were not performed in the appropriate manner, or the officer’s observations are flawed, thereby showing that the test results cannot be relied upon to determine guilt or innocence.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball that occurs when there is a disturbance of the inner ear system or the oculomotor control of the eye. Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) refers to an up-or-down or side-to-side jerking when the eye gazes to the side. In the context of DUI and Alabama field sobriety tests, alcohol consumption or consumption of certain drugs reduces the brain’s ability to control the eye muscles, therefore causing the jerk or bounce associated with HGN. As the degree of impairment becomes greater, the jerking or bouncing, i.e. the nystagmus, becomes more pronounced. This is assessed in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

An officer performs the test by taking an object, typically a pen  or a penlight and placing it approximately 12 to 15 inches from the subjects face, slightly above eye level.  The officer instructs the subject to follow the object with the eyes and the eyes only.  The subject’s head should remain still.  While conducting the test, the officer looks for six “clues,” three in each eye, that indicate impairment. The clues are:

  • LACK OF SMOOTH PURSUIT – The officer moves the object slowly but steadily from the center of the subject’s face towards the left then the right ear.   The eyes should follow the object smoothly and should not exhibit the jerking motion known as nystagmus.
  • DISTINCT NYSTAGMUS AT MAXIMUM DEVIATION – Starting again from the center of the suspect’s face, the officer moves the object toward  Each eye, bringing each high as far over to the side as possible, and holding the object at this position for approximately 4 seconds. In this part of the test the officer is looking for a distinct and substantial nystagmus  or jerking of the eye.
  • ANGLE OF ONSET OF NYSTAGMUS PRIOR TO FORTY-FIVE DEGREES – The officer moves the object at a speed that would take about four seconds for the object to reach the edge of the  subjects shoulder. The officer notes this clue if the point or angle at which the eye begins to display nystagmus is before the object reaches forty-five degrees from the center of the suspect’s face.

There are a number of non-alcohol related reasons that a person may have nystagmus. An Alabama criminal defense lawyer can help you in determining whether the one or more of these reasons play a part in your performance on the Alabama field sobriety tests. The first such non-alcohol related reason for nystagmus is an abnormality in the inner ear fluid.   A second reason could be during our muscular activity of the eye caused by neural activity occurring during epileptic or other types of seizures.  Nystagmus may also occur in people with brain damage, brain tumors or inner ear diseases.   Lastly, a small portion of the population suffers from natural nystagmus.

One-Leg Stand

The second approved Alabama field sobriety test is the one-leg stand.   During this test you will be instructed to stand  with one foot  held approximately 6 inches off the ground, while counting aloud for approximately  30 seconds.  During the One-Leg Stand, the officer will be looking for four different “clues,” or indicators of impairment:   Swaying while balancing, using arms to balance,  hopping to maintain your balance, or placing your foot down on the ground.  Below is a video of the administration of the Alabama field sobriety test – One-Leg Stand.

The Walk and Turn Test

The third Alabama field sobriety test is the walk and turn test. During this test subject is asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line.  After taking nine heel-to-toe steps, the subject is then directed to turn on one foot and return in the same exact manner in the opposite direction.  The police look for eight indicators of impairment during the test:  failure to  maintain balance while listening to the instructions, beginning before the instructions are finished, stopping while walking in order to regain balance, failing to touch heel to toe, failing to follow a straight line, using your arms to balance, making a sloppy or improper turn, or taking an incorrect number of steps.   Below is a video of the walk and turn test.


An Alabama criminal defense lawyer can assist you in your DUI case involving Alabama field sobriety tests by challenging the evidence, the testimony and recollection of the officer, and the validity of the test results.  If you are facing a DUI charge where you were administered Alabama field sobriety tests, please contact Bradford Ladner LLC and speak with one of our Alabama criminal defense lawyers regarding how we can assist you in handling your Alabama DUI case. the