If a police officer pulls you over and suspects that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, they’re likely going to ask you to do a field sobriety test. Officers typically conduct these tests before asking you to take a breathalyzer. The most common test is the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), which is a three-part series of tests. It’s in your best interest to refuse any field sobriety tests, which is your legal right.
The first test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus. When you look from side to side, there’s an involuntary jerking that occurs in your eyes. Alcohol increases the amount of jerking that occurs. For this test, the officer will hold an object and have you keep your eyes on it while they move it. They will check if you aren’t able to follow the object smoothly and if one or both of your eyes are jerking significantly.
The second test is the walk and turn. For this test, the officer will have you walk down a straight line by taking nine heel-to-toe steps. After your ninth step, you’ll need to turn on one foot and take nine heel-to-toe steps back to reach your original starting position. The officer will be looking for any instances of you losing your balance and stepping off the line or swaying, and any gaps larger than about a half-inch between your heel and toe when you step.
The third test is the one-leg stand. The officer will have you stand on one foot, keeping the other approximately 6 inches off the ground. You’ll then need to count to 30. The officer will be looking for any signs of you losing your balance, such as swaying, hopping or raising your arms to catch yourself.
While these are the most common field sobriety tests, many officers will use other tests. These may include counting backwards from a certain number, putting your feet together and tipping your head backwards, counting how many fingers the officer holds up, closing your eyes and touching your nose with one finger, or reciting the alphabet. Contrary to what many people believe, reciting the alphabet backwards is not a field sobriety test, as that’s something that’s difficult for most people to do when unimpaired, making it a poor test choice that wouldn’t hold up in court.
Why is it smart to refuse field sobriety tests? If an officer is asking you to get out of your car to take a field sobriety test, then he is almost always already planning to arrest you for driving under the influence. That means that there’s no way that performing a field sobriety test can help you, but it can hurt you by providing the officer with evidence of impairment.
If an officer asks you to take a field sobriety test, you should politely refuse. Then, it’s up to the officer to decide if he is going to arrest you, request that you take a breathalyzer or let you go. If he requests that you take a breathalyzer, keep in mind that refusing will result in the same penalty as a DUI.
The reason that refusing a field sobriety test is so important is because of probable cause. While an officer can either arrest you or request that you take a breathalyzer even without a field sobriety test, your defense attorney can argue that he didn’t have probable cause to suspect you of driving under the influence. If the judge or jury agrees with your attorney, then the case may get dismissed. However, field sobriety tests don’t require probable cause, because you’re consenting to the tests. Once you consent to the tests, then an officer can use your performance in those tests against you as probable cause for a breathalyzer or an arrest. Since the tests are subjective, the officer can use any mistake as a reason to fail you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that performing well in a field sobriety test will help you. The only purpose of these tests is to collect more evidence against you and establish probable cause so the officer can make an arrest.
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