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Do I Have to Take the Field Sobriety Tests?

You’ve probably seen field sobriety tests on television, especially if you like to watch crime shows. They are the sobriety tests conducted roadside and they consist of the following three tests: 1) horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, 2) walk-and-turn test, and 3) one-leg stand test. These tests were originally developed in the 1970s and they are admissible as evidence in a DUI case in many states.

To be more accurate, the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of the three tests mentioned above, although people often refer to the SFST as field sobriety tests. “Beginning in 1975, the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sponsored research that led to the development of standardized methods for police officers to use when evaluating motorists who are suspected of Driving While Impaired,” according to the NHTSA.

Should you take the field sobriety tests?

For starters, you are NOT legally required to perform the field sobriety tests and you will not be punished if you politely refuse to take them. Law enforcement officers specifically use these tests to: 1) obtain probable cause to make a DUI arrest, and 2) secure a conviction in court.

Usually, field sobriety tests are captured on the police officer’s dash cam, which is installed in their patrol car. If the officer is wearing a body camera, then they have additional evidence of the driver performing poorly on these difficult tests. So, why give them more ammunition against you?

If you are asked to perform the field sobriety tests, please remember that these are optional. We suggest that you politely refuse to take them since they do more harm than good.

If you don’t take the sobriety tests you can still be arrested for DUI, especially if you have a strong odor of alcohol on your breath, but at least the prosecution won’t have additional evidence to present in court.

Note: If you are arrested for DUI and you refuse to take a chemical test (blood, breath, or urine), your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for one year under California’s implied consent law.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Questionable?

Although these tests are scientifically validated, many people in the legal field believe these tests to be highly subjective. They can be difficult to complete and even a sober person can fail these tests. When the field sobriety tests are conducted in the dark, in windy conditions or on any type of a hill, they can be even more difficult to “pass.”

The following factors are known to make it difficult for a person to complete one or more the field sobriety tests:

  • Age
  • Poor vision
  • Eye disease
  • Injuries
  • Illness
  • Certain diseases
  • Certain medical conditions

“Do I have to perform the field sobriety tests during a DUI stop?” Guess what? You are under no legal obligation to take these tests, and there is no penalty for refusing. Our advice is to politely say “no thank you” to the field sobriety tests. If you take these tests, any evidence collected can be used against you in court. In other words, these tests only help the police secure a conviction, they do not help you in any way.

Note: While there is no penalty for declining the field sobriety tests, there is a penalty for refusing to submit to a chemical test in the form of a breath, blood or urine test. If you refuse a chemical test, you will automatically lose your driver’s license for one year, even if you had nothing to drink!

If you’re facing DUI charges in Orange County, contact our office to meet with Attorney Landry, who is trained in field sobriety testing.