The finger-to-nose test is a common field sobriety test (FST) that some law enforcement officers administer in order to assess whether a DUI suspect is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.1
During the finger to nose test, the DUI suspect is required to:
- Bring the tip of the index finger up to touch the tip of the nose while his/her eyes are closed and his/her head is tilted slightly back (standing in a manner identical to that required for the Romberg Balance Field Sobriety Test).
- The DUI suspect is to then attempt this six (6) times, three (3) with each hand. The officer should instruct the subject as to which hand to use on each attempt.2
Law enforcement officials typically keep in mind the following seven factors in determining whether or not a subject is impaired during the administration of the finger-to-nose test.
- The subject’s ability to follow instructions.
- The amount and direction in which the subject sways.
- Eyelid tremors and body/leg tremors.
- Muscle tone
- Any statements or unusual sounds made by the subject when performing the test.
- The subject’s depth perception
- Whether the subject touches his/her index finger on his/her face.3
Significantly, the finger to nose test has not been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Officers are therefore not required to follow any particular procedures nor look for any specific clues when administering this particular field sobriety test.
Obviously, this leaves the test open to a great deal of subjectivity and inaccuracy, which any good criminal defense attorney will find ripe for the picking.
In the article below, our California DUI defense lawyers will explain:
- 1. Field Sobriety Tests & DUI Investigations
- 2. Finger to Nose Sobriety Test Instructions: Examination of The Cerebellum and Measuring Ataxia
- 3. Finger to Nose Test Coordination: Neurological Results, Clues and Gestures
- 4. Finger to Nose Test Reliability: Important Defects and Questionable Validity
You may also wish to visit our page on Field Sobriety Tests in DUI cases.
1. Field Sobriety Tests & DUI Investigations
There are three NHTSA standardized field sobriety tests. The finger-to-nose test is not one of them. The three standardized field sobriety tests are:
These three tests are considered “standardized” because they have been the subject of several government-approved scientific studies demonstrating with statistical significance the correlation between the three tests and DUI impairment.5
Nonetheless, non-standardized FSTs are frequently used by police officers to aid in their DUI investigations.
Along with the finger to nose test, other non-standardized FSTs frequently administered by law enforcement officials to determine potential driver impairment include:
Significantly, as noted by our California DUI defense lawyers in subsection four, the finger to nose test may very well be a critical source of defects and deception in DUI investigations.
2. Finger to Nose Sobriety Test Instructions: Examination of The Cerebellum and Measuring Ataxia
The finger-to-nose instructions are specifically designed to help measure “ataxia.” This essentially means that it is configured to detect the lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements.6
Any lack of coordination detected by law enforcement may indicate problems with certain parts of the nervous system that coordinate movement, such as the cerebellum.7 As noted in subsection four, this lack of coordination may or may not be alcohol-induced.
Below are the finger-to-nose test instructions typically given by law enforcement officials when administering the test. However, since there are no standard guidelines for administrating the finger-to-nose test, the directions given may vary from one officer to another.
STEP 1: Start by instructing the DUI suspect to place his/her feet together and place his/her arms down at his/her sides.
STEP 2: Instruct the DUI suspect to make a fist with the index finger extended and rotate his/her palms forward.
STEP 3: When told to so, the DUI suspect should tilt his/her head back slightly and close his/her eyes.
STEP 4: Ensure that the DUI suspect tilts his/her head back prior to closing his/her eyes. Closing the eyes first, then tilting the head back may impair an individual’s normal equilibrium.
STEP 5: The DUI suspect will be instructed to bring either the left or right index finger up to touch the tip of his/her nose. As soon as the finger touches the tip of his/her nose, they must return the arm back down to his/her side.
- The arm shall come straight out in front of the subject and then the extreme tip of the index finger brought back to touch the extreme tip of the nose
- The following sequence should be followed when giving the FST: “Left, Right, Left, Right, Right, Left.”8
3. Finger to Nose Test Coordination: Neurological Results, Clues and Gestures
Officers may detect a number of different neurological dysfunctions when a suspect performs the finger-to-nose test. Law enforcement officials, including those from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the San Diego Police Department, frequently consider the below-mentioned seven neurological “clues” or “gestures” as positive indicators for whether or not a suspect is driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.9
- CLUE 1: The subject’s ability to follow instructions° A person who is intoxicated may not be able to follow each and every one of the officer’s instructions, in the process failing to perform the test correctly
- CLUE 2: The amount and directions in which the subject sways° The greater difficulty the suspect has in maintaining his balance, the more likely an officer will score the imbalance as a clue of impairment
- CLUE 3: Eyelid tremors and body/leg tremors° Clearly, if the suspect exhibits involuntary shakes and trembles when performing the finger to nose test, then an officer is all the more likely to question the driver’s sobriety
- CLUE 4: Muscle tone° Here, the officer looks for whether or not the suspect’s muscle tone appears more flaccid or rigid than what would normally be expected
- CLUE 5: Unusual statements or sounds° When performing the test, if the suspect makes any statements (i.e. “I need to pee”) or sounds (i.e. belching), then an officer may use such sounds or statements to help reinforce his or her suspicions that the driver is impaired
- CLUE 6: Depth perceptions° The subject’s depth perceptions when attempting to touch his nose is another clue police frequently look for when administering the test. The key inquiry determined here is whether or not the suspect is too slow or fast when bringing the finger to the nose
- CLUE 7: Proper Touching and Sequence° Here, the officer documents where the subject touches his/her index finger on his/her face
° The officer may further focus on whether the suspect uses the correct sequence of touching as directed10
4. Finger to Nose Test Reliability: Important Defects and Questionable Validity
As noted earlier, the finger-to-nose test has not been approved by NHTSA. Hence, there are no federal government-approved studies to quantify the extent of its accuracy and/or reliability in determining whether a particular driver is drunk driving.
What is perhaps even more significant is the fact that the procedural administration of the test fluctuates from one police officer to the next. Hence, when taking into account not only the inherent defects of the test itself, but as well as its random and highly subjective administration by law enforcement officials, the validity/legitimacy of the finger-to-nose test is highly questionable.
Ventura County DUI lawyer11 John Murray is one of the most skilled attorneys in the state, if not the country, in exposing and unraveling the weaknesses of the procedures/ administration of field sobriety tests in a DMV hearing and/or in the courtroom.
In terms of the finger to nose test, some of the specific weaknesses ripe for attack by Mr. Murray and our other California DUI defense lawyers include:
- Mental Disabilities/Impairments:
- If a suspect has inherent neurological defects and/or brain damage that would inhibit an ability to coordinate from the cerebellum and/or understand instructions in general, then the test results may be deemed invalid.
- Ataxia Related to Drugs and Medicines:
- The lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements (“ataxia”) that police monitor to determine whether a driver is impaired may in fact be due to causes other than alcohol. Some of these causes include seizure medications, barbiturates and various other depressants.
- Incorrect Instructional Sequencing:
- The investigating officers should ensure that the DUI suspect tilts his/her head back prior to closing his/her eyes. If the officer does not follow this sequence, then the test may be invalid given that the closing of the eyes first, and then the tilting of the head back, may unfairly impair an individual’s normal equilibrium.
- External Disturbances:
- The suspect should be able to perform the test away from common roadside distractions. If any serious audio (i.e. honking/sirens) or visual (i.e. flashing lights) distractions surround the testing, then the test results will be all the more dubious.
- Non-Standardized Testing:
- Without NHTSA-approved procedures to help train and assist officers in the administration of the finger-to-nose field sobriety test, there exists a great deal of subjectivity and arbitrariness in each officer’s determination of whether or not a particular suspect is drunk driving.
- Without nationally standardized benchmarks for either the administration or interpretation of the finger-to-nose test, ensuing test results and/or analyses are all the more likely to be tainted by the predispositions and biases of law enforcement officials.
Call Us For Help…
With offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities, our California DUI defense lawyers are ready to help you and your family in any way possible.
For questions about the finger-to-nose test, field sobriety testing or DUIs in general, please contact us at Shouse Law Group to arrange a free consultation at your earliest convenience.
- California Highway Patrol (December 2007). Memo Re: HPM 70.4. Driving Under the Influence Enforcement Manual. The finger-to-nose FST was among the six optimal DUI field sobriety tests that were examined during the initial 1977 study conducted by SCRI. The finger to nose test was also included in a Finnish DUI study conducted in 1974 and was implemented by the LAPD during the formation of their DRE program. The finger-to-nose test is noted for its divided attention qualities and depth perception issues.
- Id., The Finger to Nose field sobriety test differs from the other DUI psychophysical tests in that the examiner must continue to give instructions to the subject throughout the test.
- U.S. Department of Transportation “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing” NHTSA Student Manual (February 2006).
- See Stuster & Burns, Validation of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery at BACs Below .10 percent. U.S. Dept. of Transportation Rep. No. Dot-HS-808-839 (1998), at 33; Burns & Moskowitz, Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest, U.S. Dept. of Transportation Rep. No. DOT-HS-802-424 (1977) (recommended the three-test battery of one-leg stand, walk and turn, and HGN to aid officers in discriminating BAC level); Anderson, Schweitz & Snyder, Field Evaluation of Behavioral Test Battery for DWI, U.S. Dept. of Transportation Rep. No. DOT-HS-806-475 (1983) (field evaluation of the field sobriety test battery (HGN, one-leg stand, and walk and turn) conducted by police officers from four jurisdictions indicated that the battery was approximately 80% effective in determining BAC above and below .10 percent).
- Schmahmann JD (2004). “Disorders of the cerebellum: ataxia, dysmetria of thought, and the cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome”. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 16 (3).
- Schmitz TJ, O’Sullivan SB (2007). “Examination of Coordination”. Physical rehabilitation. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis; Notermans NC, van Dijk GW, van der Graaf Y, van Gijn J, Wokke JH (January 1994). “Measuring ataxia: quantification based on the standard neurological examination.” J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatr. 57(1)
- CHP, Driving Under the Influence Manuel (2007).
- Ventura County DUI lawyer John Murray is qualified by NHTSA to administer field sobriety tests, in connection with DUI roadside investigations. Attorney Murray practices in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, including Simi Valley, Van Nuys, San Fernando, Lancaster, Burbank and Glendale.