Should I Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests?

field sobriety testing

When you’re pulled over on the side of the road, either during a routine traffic stop, or because the officer suspected you of driving under the influence, once it’s clear that the officer is trying to decide if you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it can get overwhelming.

As the officer is looking at you suspiciously, you’re thinking, “Do I admit to drinking? Do I agree to take the field sobriety tests? Should I take the chemical test?” When you’re under pressure, you may not be sure of the right answer to these questions. So, to help you out we’re going to clear up a few things.

Is it Illegal to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

In California, it is illegal to refuse a chemical test (according to Vehicle Code §13353), but it is not against the law to refuse to take the field sobriety tests. These tests are voluntary, therefore, you have the right to refuse to take these tests in California.

Performing field sobriety test exercises provides evidence that the state can use against you later on in your court case.  You may politely refuse these tests but always remember to remain cordial, professional and calm when communicating to the police officer.  Avoid having an attitude or being difficult as this can make things worse. 

Refusal Can Lead to an Arrest

Remember that even if you refuse to take these field sobriety tests, you may still be arrested.  After arrest, you must take a chemical test to determine the alcohol content in your system or the penalties are significantly worse. 

Field Sobriety Tests vs Chemical Tests

Field Sobriety Tests
Law enforcement uses field sobriety tests to determine if someone may or may not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol after a lawful traffic stop.

These tests include the one-leg stand, the walk and turn and the horizontal gaze nystagmus (following the tip of a pen with your eyes). These tests are administered before you are arrested, contrary to the chemical tests, which can only be required after a lawful arrest.

Chemical Tests
These are breath, blood and sometimes urine tests that can only be required by law enforcement after a lawful arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence (of drugs or alcohol). Under California law, refusal to take a chemical test results in an automatic license suspension.

Advantages of Refusing a Field Sobriety Test

Drivers often wonder about their ability to refuse a chemical test, but it is also valid to question whether or not you should take a field sobriety test. Below, we've listed some of the benefits of refusing to take a field sobriety test:

  • Refusing the field sobriety tests will likely result in a DUI arrest, but if you fail the sobriety test you will be arrested anyway.
  • The evidence from field sobriety tests is usually recorded on the officer’s dash cam or body camera, which is used against drivers in court.
  • Without field sobriety test evidence, there’s less evidence to support a DUI charge.
  • There are many outside factors that can influence the field sobriety tests. For example, being extremely fatigued or performing the test in adverse weather conditions can cause you to fail a sobriety test.

Should you refuse the field sobriety tests? Absolutely, but be sure you are polite when you say, “No thank you.” If you've been arrested for DUI, contact an Orange County DUI lawyer at the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. for a free consultation. Board Certified in DUI defense, Attorney Landry is qualified to defend you every step of the way!

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