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Field Sobriety Tests: Can I just say no?

You usually avoid these kinds of things. But Sarah was a good friend, and she made work better and fun each day. So when they announced the office happy hour celebrating her promotion, you knew you had to go.

The wine flowed freely and although you don’t usually imbibe, you found yourself consuming a couple of glasses of wine. On the way home, you were stopped for speeding ever so slightly. When you rolled down your window, the officer said he smelled alcohol and demanded that you step out of your vehicle. Are your required to comply?

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

There are myriad ways an officer might determine that you are driving under the influence. While the breathalyzer is the standard test, prior to administering it, law enforcement may ask you to perform a preliminary evaluation known as a field sobriety test.

There are three standard tests the officer can administer: The walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. Should you agree to them?

Why Field Sobriety Tests are a bad idea

The results of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are, generally, admissible in court as proof of impaired driving. However, many factors can affect your ability to complete them.

Balance issues can affect the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests, as can certain medications that make you more vulnerable to being unsteady. Road grade, and treacherous weather (snow, rain) can make FSTs difficult, if not outright dangerous, to complete. Some medical conditions—such as neuropathy—can affect results as well.

So why refuse the tests?

The threshold for a DUI is .08 blood alcohol content. Many people, however, are unaware that DUI charges can and do stick even if your BAC is under 08. How? All the cop needs to prove is that your driving was impaired.

Field Sobriety Test results can obfuscate your driving abilities, and once you have been charged it is difficult, if not impossible, to suppress test results. For these reasons, you can and should refuse Field Sobriety Tests.

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