Law enforcement officers have used field sobriety tests to identify drunk drivers for decades now, yet it seems that they’re designed for failure. According to a study by the Southern California Research Institute, 32% of individuals in a laboratory setting who were judged to have a BAC above the legal limit were actually below the level.
If field sobriety tests are so unpredictable, why are they still used across the country? Better yet, are you even required to take a field sobriety test if you’re pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI)?
Why Are Field Sobriety Tests Used?
To begin, let’s get a better understanding of what a field sobriety test is. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially endorses three different tests: the Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand.
Sadly, the reliability of standardized field sobriety tests comes into question on a regular basis. Lack of baseline, sloped testing areas, complex instructions, injuries, age, and illnesses can all cause you to fail the tests, despite sobriety.
So why are they still used?
Simply put, it’s just to gather evidence against you. Performance on the tests is one of the factors police, prosecutors and courts consider in gauging whether a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If field sobriety tests can’t help you win, is there any way to avoid them? Or are you required to do a field sobriety test?
Can You Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests?
You do not have to submit to a field sobriety test in California. However, the officer who pulls you over won't tell you this and will use the results to justify your arrest and gather evidence against you in court or at the DMV.
It is your right to politely refuse any field sobriety tests without being punished. Do not allow an officer to trick or intimidate you into taking any field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are not mandatory, so you do not have to take a field sobriety test in California. Electing not to take them cannot be used against you.
However, under implied consent laws in California, you must submit to at least one chemical test if you are lawfully arrested by an officer who believes you were driving under the influence. If you refuse a blood or breath test, then it can be considered an admission of guilt and result in jail time and your license being suspended.
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