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Do I have the right to refuse a field sobriety test?

No one expects it. You drive home from a party, it’s late, you don’t feel intoxicated and besides you only had a couple of drinks and that was at least 2 hours ago.

You’re not driving at your optimum ability – it’s late and fatigue is setting in. But a long day turned into a long night, and you expected a lack of concentration, so, when lights begin blaring behind you, they surprise you.

The officer shines his big flashlight right in your eyes. You hand the officer your license, wait patiently and then it comes: Ma’am, would you please step out of the car?

Is compliance mandatory?

What is a field sobriety test?

Law enforcement uses a variety of tests and measures to ascertain whether you have been drinking and driving.  Most people know about breath tests, but most do not know about field sobriety tests, what they determine and whether they must, in fact, comply with the officer’s request.

There are three basic tests cops employ:

  • The walk-and-turn test: intoxication indicators include starting too soon and losing your balance; other indications include stopping while walking, using arms to balance and missing the heal on your toe.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus: intoxication indicators include eye-jerking, rather than smooth tracking. Excess alcohol can affect eye movement.
  • The one-leg-stand test: intoxication indicators include being unable to maintain balance, putting your leg down during the test, swaying and hopping to maintain balance.

Are they required?

The most salient answer: no. Field sobriety tests may be helpful for law enforcement, but they are a distinct danger for you. Medication, fatigue, road conditions and certain physical conditions can affect performance and result in false positives, possibly increasing your chances of a DWI charge or conviction.

Protect yourself and your future by politely, but firmly, refusing the tests. In the event that the officer cites you for drunk driving, contacting a criminal law attorney protects both your rights – and your future.

 

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Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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