Hall of Fame boxer Oscar De La Hoya was arrested on suspicion of DUI after police in Pasadena stopped him for speeding. According to an Associated Press news report, Pasadena police said De La Hoya’s car was pulled over for speeding shortly before 2 a.m. Jan. 25. Officials said they smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from his SUV. The 43-year-old former fighter failed a field sobriety test and was taken into custody. He was cited for DUI and released to his manager. The former boxer has had stints in rehab facilities in 2011 and 2013.
Understanding Field Sobriety Tests
Based on this AP news report, it appears that De La Hoya was arrested after he failed a field sobriety test. Whether you are a Hall of Fame boxer or an average Joe, DUI investigations happen pretty much the same way for everyone. It is crucial that everyone knows and understands their rights if they are ever stopped on suspicion of impaired driving.
Field sobriety tests or FSTs are a series of physical and mental exercises which police officers administer during DUI investigations. The driver’s performance on these FSTs can be a key factor in law enforcement officials’ determination of whether or not you are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. If you perform poorly in these tests or if you are unable to properly understand and follow the officer’s instructions, it would be taken as a sign of physical or mental impairment stemming from the use of alcohol and/or drugs.
It must be noted that police officers depend quite a bit on field sobriety tests in deciding whether to make a DUI arrest. FSTs also play a significant role in district attorneys deciding to file DUI charges. In spite of the fact that FSTs are popular among law enforcement officials, it is a fact that these tests are only about 65 percent accurate in determining a driver’s impairment. What this means is that on average, three out of four people who get arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence based on failing these FSTs, are not actually intoxicated.
Commonly Used FSTs
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved three standardized field sobriety tests to help police officers during their DUI investigation. The three FSTs that are most commonly used by law enforcement officials include:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN): This refers to an involuntary jerking of the eyes as the eyes gaze toward the side. When this particular test is being administered, the officer will inspect the suspect to follow an object such as a pen with his or her eyes to the left and to the right. The officer then makes a note of the angle at which the pupil starts to show an involuntary jerking of the eye (known as nystagmus). When this jerking occurs at or before the 45-degree angle, it is an indicator that the suspect might have a high blood alcohol concentration.
- The Walk and Turn Test: In this test, the officer tells the suspect to listen, follow and remember instructions while doing a number of physical tasks. This is also sometimes referred to as the “nine-step test” or walk-the-line test. During the test, the suspect must take nine heel-to-toe steps on a real or imaginary line. Then he or she must turn around and repeat the heel-toes. The officer will look for a number of things when the suspect performs the test including his or her sense of balance, ability to follow instructions, or doing something incorrectly such as stepping offline, taking an improper turn or taking the wrong number of steps.
- The One-Leg Stand Test: During this test, the officer will ask the defendant to raise his or her foot about six inches off the ground, hold still in that position, count from 1001 to 1030 and look down at his or her foot. Some of the signs of impairment the officer will watch out for include swaying, hopping, putting the foot down, or using one’s arms to balance.
These Tests Are Unreliable
Field sobriety tests are unreliable for a number of reasons. First of all, officers may not be properly trained to conduct the testing. Secondly, the conditions on the street or location where they conduct the testing simply might not be conducive to taking the test. For example, the surface might not be level or the lighting may be poor making it difficult or challenging for the defendant to follow the officer’s instructions.
The suspect may be wearing clothing that is not suited to performing well on FSTs. For example, someone may be wearing high heels or dress shoes or tight clothing that might inhibit his or her ability to perform the tests properly and successfully. If the officer does not time the test with a watch, then the results might not be accurate. There may also be times when the officer does not give proper instructions on how to perform the FSTs. These precise instructions can make a huge difference in how the suspect performs. Some of the other reasons why you could fail the tests include lack of physical fitness, drowsiness or sleepiness, physical exhaustion, illness such as a cold or the flu, etc.
Should You Take a Field Sobriety Test?
DUI suspects often wonder if they have to take a field sobriety test under the law. Here’s the answer: you don’t have to take it. While there are legal penalties in California for refusing a chemical test, declining to take a FST does not have any such penalties. If you are stopped by an officer and asked to take a field sobriety test, politely decline to do so.
If you are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, remain calm. Don’t admit anything to officers. Do not make any statements. What you tell officials can, and most likely, will be used against you. The consequences of a DUI are severe and the stakes are high. Contact experienced Orange County DUI defense lawyers who will protect your rights every step of the way and defend you against the charges.