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Minnesota DWI and field sobriety testing

A DWI stop can be stressful and frightening, especially if this is the first time you have faced law enforcement. Knowing the typical course of such an encounter and its various elements can help you navigate it in an optimal manner.

One common component of DWI stops is the administration of a field sobriety test. Typically, police officers will ask you to take the Standard Field Sobriety Test, which usually consists of three physical tests. 

Eye movement

The horizontal nystagmus gaze test checks whether your eye movements indicate signs of intoxication. The officer may ask you to track a moving object, such as a pen, with your eyes. 

Balance

The one-leg stand consists of asking you to hold one foot a certain distance off the ground until the officer tells you to stop. This test checks for balance issues. Even someone who has not consumed an intoxicating substance may fail this test due to various medical conditions that can affect balance; uncomfortable shoes or clothing can also affect test performance.

Walking

The walk-and-turn consists of walking in a straight line in a specific manner as described by the officer. As above, performance can suffer due to various factors other than intoxication. 

Why people fail the SFST

How an individual performs on a field sobriety test can depend on factors such as health or attire. Additionally, a key part of the test is following instructions. This can be difficult to do if a person is unable to hear clearly due to background noise or a hearing impairment, or if the person is unable to understand the instructions. People also fail because they get nervous or because the officers did not administer the test properly. Finally, assessment of whether someone passed or failed depends on the officer's subjective perceptions.

For these reasons, it is usually best to politely refuse to take this test. While Minnesota's implied consent laws may impose consequences such as license revocation for refusing a blood alcohol test after probable cause, this does not apply to taking a field sobriety test.

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