Field Sobriety Tests: What to Expect

One of the ways the police try and determine drivers’ degree of intoxication is by asking them to perform field sobriety tests. Generally, the suspicious officer already determined that a person needed to be pulled over, whether for speeding, driving recklessly, or another traffic violation, and per their training, will observe the driver for any indication that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both.

Preparing for Field Sobriety Tests

If an officer suspects that a driver is “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol, the officer will ask the driver to get out of the car to perform field sobriety tests. When getting out of the car, it’s important to keep any movements slow and deliberate.

Avoid speaking in case any words become unintentionally slurred or in case an officer may misinterpret them. It’s crucial to be respectful to an officer, even if you disagree with them pulling you over, or they’re apparently having a bad day and are in a rotten mood. Usually though, we find that officers will be polite if you’re polite.

While it is likely that a driver is nervous, staying calm will be beneficial. Even a person that has consumed no alcohol may fail a field sobriety test due to nerves. Field sobriety tests are difficult for anyone to perform, even perfectly sober people have a hard time with them!

Some of the most common field sobriety tests:

  • Walking heel-to-toe for nine steps and turning back to repeat the walk
  • Standing on one leg
  • Touching the tip of the nose with closed eyes
  • Counting or reciting the alphabet
  • The pen test

Even if a driver passes the field sobriety tests with flying colors, an officer may believe that the driver could have a “high tolerance” to alcohol. Meaning the driver has a high BAC, but they aren’t showing it. In this scenario, the officer asks the driver to take a breath test to measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

If a breath or blood test determines that a person was driving with a BAC over the .08% legal limit, they will likely be charged with DUI.

Saying ‘No’ to Field Sobriety Tests

In California, field sobriety tests are conducted so police officers can gain probable cause to make a DUI arrest. Fortunately, these tests are not required by law, so if you’re ever asked to perform the field sobriety tests, we recommend that you politely decline and we emphasize being polite.

However, if you’re arrested for DUI and you refuse a blood, breath or urine test, then your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for one year, so keep that in mind.

At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc., our Orange County DUI lawyers are familiar with field sobriety tests and the tactics used by arresting officers. If you have questions about your case, contact us today for a free consultation!

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