Let’s say you’re driving down a Louisiana highway after an LSU sporting event, and you glance in your rear view mirror only to find a police car following you with flashing lights. Knowing that staying calm and cooperating as much as possible may be key to avoiding a lot of legal trouble, you safely pull to the side of the road and come to a full stop.

At first, you assume that you must have been going a few miles over the posted speed limit or perhaps your tail light is out. You soon realize the situation is a lot more serious than that when the officer asks you to step out of your car. This is often the first step of detainment, meaning you are legally obligated to stay put at the scene unless the officer allows you to leave. If the next step involves field sobriety tests, your future may be at stake.

Standardized tests to determine probable cause

When it’s a police officer’s word against yours, things can go either way. Knowing your rights ahead of time and where to seek support when needed can often help mitigate such circumstances. The following list explains the basics of three field sobriety tests that can mean the difference between heading the rest of the way home after the game or going to jail:

  • Police use the walk-and-turn test to check your balance, gait and ability to correctly respond to specific instructions. If you veer off the designated line the officer asks you to walk, or he or she tells you to hold your arms at shoulder length and you don’t, the result may be that you face charges for drunk driving.
  • Another common field sobriety test is a one-leg stance. Many sober people are terrible at any sort of balance tests, so there’s a chance you may be perfectly sober and still bomb this test. The problem is that failing it can land you behind bars.
  • The most scientific of the three common field sobriety tests is a horizontal gaze nystagmus test. When a police officer asks you to use only your eyes to follow a pen or a finger placed before you at eye level, there is a reason. The purpose of the test is so the officer can observe your eye movements as  you track the object left to right or up and down.

Your eye will generally jerk erratically when it reaches its maximum peripheral view; however, if you’re drunk, that jerky movement may occur a lot sooner. Failing any or all of these tests gives an officer probable cause to arrest you for DUI. That still does not necessarily mean you will face conviction.

Although getting arrested can surely ruin an LSU night out, it doesn’t necessarily have to ruin the rest of your life. If you know your rights and how to protect them, you may be able to set the record straight without any permanent consequences.