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Am I Required to Take a Field Sobriety Test?


Police officers often use standardized field sobriety tests, also referred to as roadside tests, to help them determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or another substance. If an officer stops you, he or she may ask you to perform one of these tests.

You have a right to refuse to take any field sobriety test.

Should I Consent to a Field Sobriety Test?

The officer is looking to form an opinion about whether you are impaired, but is also looking for probable cause to use against you for a DUI. For this reason, it is highly advisable that you do not consent to a field sobriety test and politely refuse.

Before you are even pulled over, a case is being built against you. Whether you were slightly swerving or the officer can smell the scent of alcohol when he or she comes to your window, there is some suspicion that an alleged crime has been committed. The last thing you want to give is any information that corroborates the suspicion of the police officer that you are intoxicated while driving. That, however, is exactly what a field sobriety test will do. For this reason, your answer should be “no.”

Types of Field Sobriety Tests You May Be Asked to Take

The three most common types of field sobriety tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
  • Walk-And-Turn Test
  • One-Leg Stand Test

With the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, or the eye test, they are looking for nystagmus which is a medical condition that causes the eye to shudder. Any level of alcohol in the system will cause nystagmus, but there is a legal level of alcohol that is allowed in one’s system while driving. There are also many other causes of nystagmus, including genetics.

The Walk-And-Turn test asks you to walk on an imaginary line heel to toe and then do a military turn back while counting out loud, all while a police officer is watching you and you are likely terrified. This test is often conducted in the middle of the night, which makes it even more difficult for the average person to complete. With or without alcohol in your system, this test nearly sets you up for failure.

The One-Leg Stand requires you to stand on one foot and count to thirty using specific verbal commands. In most cases, this is conducted alongside a busy highway with vehicles flying by and throwing off your balance.

Consequences of Refusal

If you fail a roadside sobriety test, it is assumed that you are intoxicated and not that you just took a difficult test. There is no penalty for refusing these tests that are designed to build a case against you. You may get arrested, but you will not have given prosecution evidence against you by failing to properly complete a field sobriety test.

You will not be penalized for asserting your right to contact an attorney. At Appel & Morse, our Santa Barbara criminal defense attorneys offer a free criminal consultation to help you get started. Reach out today!

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