Oregon’s Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

In Oregon, there’s an administrative rule, the 2570250010 that outlines what the field sobriety test is for the officers in this state. There are three tests that are standardized nationally. There is the HGN, and that includes the BGN.

The HGN Test

HGN stands for ‘Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus’ test. The officer has to be certified to administer this test, which means they have to be trained on how to do it, how far the appropriate distance is to hold the stimulus, and whether they’re using a pen or a little light.

How far away from the driver the pen or light has to be. How many passes that are needed to make in order to get an accurate reading of the driver. Also they need to have an understanding of basic pineal geometry and mathematics, such as what is a 45-degree angle in comparison to where you’re standing.

With an HGN test, the officer is going to look at the driver’s eyes. They’re looking to whether or not there is a lack of smooth pursuit. Is there any jerking in the eyes and is there moving back and forth across the eyes as their making passes in front of each eye?

If they hit 45 degrees and you’re following the stimulus and your eyes are jerking badly, that’s the nystagmus onset prior to 45 degrees.

Interviewer: This is not a good time to roll your eyes at the police?

Shannon: No, not at all. It’s not a good time period because I’ve seen situations and heard of situations where somebody has been asked to step out of the car and taken the nystagmus test and said, “Have a good night.” I’ve heard this actually happens.

It is possible that you do well on the nystagmus test, and they don’t see any evidence of intoxication, and they don’t suspect drugs. It is a two-part test, one is do you pass the nystagmus test, and two is they don’t think that you’re under the influence of substances like a stimulant. Then they’re going to say, “Have a good night. Go back to the car.”

You can be even under the legal limit and still fail the HGN. If you fail the HGN, then you can or cannot fail the VGN, which is the vertical test, the one that would gauge your response to an up and down motion.

You can or cannot fail that. You’d still be placed under arrest for a DUII for failing the HGN. The VGN supposedly only comes into play when you’re at really high levels of intoxication. I think it’s 0.10 or above, according to the research, but the VGN will be present at lower levels of alcohol use.

It can happen. They can say, “No HGN. Go back to your car.” That’s a possibility, but if they see HGN, then the other tests really do not matter.

Interviewer: Will they do other tests or they’ll always do the HGN?

Shannon: They’re trained to complete the three standardized ones. The next one is the one-leg stand.

The One-Leg Stand Test

Interviewer: Is that where you would raise the one leg six inches above the ground and count to 30?

Shannon: Yes, exactly, count to 30. Just one thing to think about with the eye tests, things like oncoming traffic and flashing lights can interfere with your eye motion and can skew that result.

You were talking about how does oncoming traffic come into play when someone is undergoing this test That can skew the results and can render them invalid when it comes to your actual trial, but still the officer is probably going to think they have enough to take you in.

Then the one-leg stand is where the surface of the road condition is important. Factors like construction can hinder your performance. Traffic whizzing by can scare you.

Even if you’re completely sober, trying to focus and keep your foot six inches off the ground without looking while traffic is going by will result in you losing your balance. That could really affect the accuracy of that test.

The Walk-And-Turn Test

The last test is the walk-and-turn, the heel to toe. The officer will instruct the person, either verbally or they will actually show them how to take the nine steps heel to toe in a straight line and how to turn properly. Oftentimes, the officer is going to speed through the instructions. That can be very confusing.

The person will think they have the gist of it, and they’ll be so nervous that they don’t want to ask any questions. One of the clues the police look for in speaking with a driver is when they ask him or her to repeat instructions. Officers, all the time and it’s so frustrating, will go through their instructions so fast. They’re not clear and concise.

They do it so that if you are asking to repeat the instructions, you do appear confused. There’s some of them that I think are unprofessional about the process and they’ll take advantage of you that way.

Then you’ll have some good officers too that do speak slowly, are concise and clear in their instructions. They physically will demonstrate it for you as many times as you want so that you can see what they’re asking you to do.

The Romberg Test

One more test that a lot of officers here in Oregon use is the Romberg. This is the balancing test where they have you look up. You put your arms at your sides straight, tilt your head back and look up, and then they look at whether or not you have this circular sway.

If so, how much off center are you going in the circle or swaying, one inch, two inch from center, three inches, four inches? Obviously, the wider they see this movement then they believe the more likely it is that you’re under the influence.

The State of Oregon Does Not Use a Preliminary Breath Test Machine

Interviewer: Will they do a preliminary breath test at the side of the road?

Shannon: No. Oregon doesn’t use those.

Shannon I. Wilson, Esq.

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