What Happens if I Refuse to Submit to a Field Sobriety Test?

Field sobriety tests (FST) have been used to help law enforcement determine a driver’s level of impairment for years. However, they have become increasingly controversial. Not only has their accuracy been called into question, but they are frequently administered incorrectly. In addition to three standardized tests approved by the NHTSA, law enforcement also utilizes several unofficial field sobriety tests.

The three field sobriety tests approved by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
  • Walk and Turn (WAT)
  • One Leg Stand (OLS)

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is particularly controversial. This test looks for the smooth, steady progression of the eye as the gaze shifts to the side. The premise of the test is that if the individual is under the influence, their eyes will involuntarily jerk as their gaze moves. However, this jerking can be caused by several other factors, including medications and head injuries. Consequently, many people believe that it does not accurately determine if someone is under the influence of alcohol.

Other unofficial field sobriety tests that an officer may use include:

  • Rhomberg balance test
  • Finger-to-nose
  • Reciting the alphabet
  • Coordination tests

Despite the controversy surrounding field sobriety tests, they continue to be used by law enforcement across the country, including here in California. But, are you required to submit to these tests? What happens if you refuse? Keep reading to find out.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory?

Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in California. You may politely decline to take a field sobriety test without fear of being punished. Additionally, choosing not to take an FST cannot be used against you in court. Generally speaking, these tests are used by the officer as a way to gather evidence to support an arrest, and you want to avoid giving this to them. If you are asked to perform a field sobriety test, you should decline.

What About Chemical Tests?

Chemical tests are not the same thing as field sobriety tests. If you are arrested on suspicion of a DUI, you are legally required to take at least one chemical test. This is because California has an implied consent law. This law means that if you drive on California roads and highways, you are considered to have already consented to have your blood alcohol tested If arrested on suspicion of a DUI. Before administering the test, law enforcement is required to explain your rights as they pertain to refusing a chemical or breath test.

It is important to remember that refusing to take a chemical or breath test can be used against you. In some cases, refusing to take a chemical or breath test is considered an admission of guilt.

What Happens If I Refuse to Take an FST?

Though you are not legally required to take a field sobriety test, many officers will try to intimidate you into taking the tests. Additionally, just because you refuse to take an FST does not mean that you cannot be arrested for a DUI. Even if you refuse, the law enforcement officer may still proceed with an arrest.

If you are arrested on suspicion of a DUI, you should reach out to an experienced attorney, like ours at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. We have a deep understanding of California’s DUI laws, and we are prepared to help you with your case.
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