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SFST Clues: What Makes You Fail The Field Tests?

Dayton DUI Attorney Charles Rowland > DUI Law  > SFST Clues: What Makes You Fail The Field Tests?

SFST Clues: What Makes You Fail The Field Tests?

SFST Clues: What Makes You Fail the Field Tests?

sfst cluesOften, at an initial interview, I will have a client tell me that they “aced” the field tests. One of the most common comments is, “I followed his pen perfectly.”  Spoiler Alert: if you took the tests it is very likely that the officer observed “SFST clues” of intoxication.  It is important to realize that you do not have to take the standardized field sobriety tests. Why would you? If an officer makes the determination that you are drunk by getting you out of the car, why would you think you could change his/her mind.  You can’t!

Politely explain to the officer that you are scared and do not know what to do. Ask for an attorney.  If the officer says that they just want to see if you are “OK to drive,” repeat: “I am scared and don’t know what to do. I’d like to speak to a lawyer before taking any field tests.”  If they threaten to take you to jail unless you take the tests, you are then secure in the knowledge that the officer has already made up his/her mind to arrest and doing the field tests would only give them more evidence to use against you.

Here is a handy guide to what SFST clues an officer is looking for. The notation next to the SFST clue is where the explanation can be found in the 2015 NHTSA Student Manual, the training book used by every police officer in the country.


  1. Lack of Smooth Pursuit – Session 8; Page 34-35
  2. Distinct and Sustained Nystagmus – Session 8; Page 39-40
  3. Onset of Nystagmus prior to 45 Degrees – Session 8; 43-45


1. Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions – Session 8; Page 58

  • Record this if the subject does not maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions.
  • Do NOT record this clue if the subject sways or uses arms to balance but maintains the heel-to-toe position.

2. Starts too soon – Session 8; Page 59

  • Record this clue if subject does not wait to start until instructed

3. Stops while walking – Session 8; Page 59

  • Do NOT record this clue if the subject is merely walking slowly.

4. Does not touch heel-to-toe – Session 8; Page 59

  • The subject leaves a space of more than one half inch between the heel to toe on any step

5. Steps off the line – Session 8; Page 60

  • The subject steps so that one foot is entirely off the line. 6. Uses arms to balance – Session 8; Page 60
  • The subject raises one or both arms more than 6 inches from the sides in order to maintain balance.

7. Improper Turn – Session 8; Page 60

  • The subject removes the front foot from the line while turning
    Also record this clue if the subject has not followed directions as instructed, i.e., spins or pivots around or loses balance while turning.

8. Incorrect number of steps – Session 8; Page 60

  • Record this clue if the subject takes more or fewer than nine steps in either direction.


1. The Subject Sways while Balancing – Session 8; Page 68

  • This refers to side to side or back and forth motion while the subject maintains the One Leg Stand Position
  • Slight tremors of the foot or body should NOT be interpreted as swaying.

2. Uses arms to balance – Session 8; Page 68

  • Subject moves arms 6 or more inches from the side of the body in order to keep balance.

3. Hopping – Session 8; Page 69

  • Subject is able to keep one foot off the ground, but resorts to hopping in order to maintain balance.

4. Puts foot down – Session 8; Page 69

  • The subject is not able to maintain the One Leg Stand position, putting the foot down one or more times during the 30 second count.

Now you know. The interpretation of these SFST clues is of vital importance. In preparing to defend a DUI case I spent time taking the same course in Standardized Field Sobriety training as the law enforcement officers. In addition, I took the next step and took the SFST Instructor class; meaning that I am qualified to teach law enforcement officers how to administer and evaluate the SFST clues.  What’s more, twice every year I put on a mock trial for the Greene County Peace Officer Training Academy wherein we conduct a mock motion to suppress.  This experience is augmented by attending DUI seminars that delve deeply into defending an accused driver. I am honored to have been asked to speak to other lawyers on this topic and do so frequently.

Call me if you need an attorney who dedicates his practice to DUI defense. (937) 318-1384

Charles Rowland


Charles M. Rowland II has been representing the accused drunk driver for over 20 years. Contact him at (937) 318-1384 if you find yourself facing a DUI (now called OVI) charge.

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