It’s a common request when a police officer pulls you over and suspects that you’re under the influence of alcohol – field sobriety tests. Many drivers comply and go through with these tests under the mistaken belief that if they do everything right, the officer will let them go. The reality is that the officer is unlikely to let you leave, regardless of your performance on a field sobriety test, and there’s nothing for you to gain by taking them.
When an officer suspects you of driving under the influence, there are three things that they can do: they can arrest you, they can request that you take a breathalyzer or they can request that you take a field sobriety tests. They will typically perform those in order, starting with the field sobriety test, moving on to the breathalyzer and then finally making the arrest. The difference between those three things is that an arrest and a breathalyzer both require the officer to have probable cause, while a field sobriety test requires your consent. The officer may not make it seem like it requires your consent. In fact, they’re likely to phrase their request in a way that makes it seem like you have no choice in the matter, such as saying “I’m going to have you do a field sobriety test, okay?” Remember that you do have the right to refuse a field sobriety test, and there’s no penalty for doing so.
The reason why you should not take a field sobriety test is because in doing so, you can hurt your defense by giving the officer probable cause for a breathalyzer or an arrest. If you’re arrested for a DUI after not consenting to any field sobriety tests, a criminal defense lawyer can argue that the officer didn’t have probable cause to make the arrest. If the judge or jury sides with your defense lawyer, then your case may end up getting dismissed, because the officer didn’t follow the correct procedures or have enough evidence to arrest you. On the other hand, if the officer didn’t have enough probable cause, but then you took a field sobriety test, any mistake you make can give the officer the probable cause he needs. And since the officer is judging the test and the criteria are very subjective, the odds aren’t in your favor.
To demonstrate how subjective these tests can be, let’s go over a few of the standard field sobriety tests. One involves the officer holding an object for you to watch while they move it back and forth, as the officer watches your eyes for exaggerated jerking that could indicate intoxication. Another involves walking a straight line heel to toe for nine steps, then turning around and walking back, without getting off balance or stepping with too much of a gap between your heel and your toe. Finally, there’s the test where you stand on one foot and count to 30, again without getting off balance. In all three, the results of the test depend on the officer’s evaluation of you, so they can fail you for any minor mistakes.
Keep in mind that the officer can still have probable cause even if you don’t take a field sobriety test, such as in situations where you’re showing strong signs of alcohol intoxication. However, in those type of situations, the officer is going to place you under arrest regardless of whether or not you take a field sobriety test. The field sobriety test is one of those situations where you can only harm yourself and your defense, and you don’t have anything to gain. A police officer who suspects you’re drunk won’t let you go just because you do well on a test. The only reason they’re having you take the test is so you can provide them with more evidence to use against you.
If you’re asked to take a field sobriety test, calmly and politely tell the officer that you don’t consent to any tests. For any subsequent requests, ask if you’re being detained or if you’re free to go. If the officer arrests you, contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible to get to work on your defense.