What is a Field Sobriety Test and Why Should You Refuse It?

What is a Field Sobriety Test and Why Should You Refuse It?

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Fighting a traffic ticket

Most people think that they know how things play out when you get a speeding ticket: you get pulled over, you might be asked to take a sobriety test by blowing into a breathalyzer or walking in a straight line, and if you’re suspected of being over the legal limit for blood alcohol, you’re facing DUI charges. Most people are not aware that fighting a traffic ticket is even possible.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can however argue your case, since field sobriety tests are not considered accurate or reliable. To begin with, when fighting a traffic ticket, you should be aware that you are not legally required to submit to a field sobriety test. In fact, criminal defense attorneys caution against it.

Why does a DUI conviction matter?
DUI offenses can have consequences that will follow you for a long time, and affect all aspects of your life. You could be looking at criminal charges, fines, and possible jail time. If convicted, you will have a harder time finding a job, getting a bank loan and even renting a home.
There’s good reason for law enforcement to treat driving while intoxicated as a serious crime. Traffic records show that drink driving is responsible for a large number of traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) reports that losses due to drunk driving in the U.S. add up to $199 billion each year. NHTSA also reports that drunk driving accidents affect almost two-thirds, or 63% of people, at some time in their lives.

What is a field sobriety test?
With all the risks attendant on drunk driving, the strict laws make sense. However, as with everything else in the criminal justice system, mistakes can be made and people can be wrongly convicted. According to NHTSA statistics, 4,000 people are arrested for drunk driving every day. With this high volume of arrests, wrongful charges and even wrongful convictions are possible.
The best strategy for fighting a traffic ticket or DUI charge actually begins even before charges are filed. If you are pulled over because the officer suspects you of DUI, you may be asked to take a field sobriety test. In general the sobriety test had three elements:

  • The eye test or the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
  • The walk and turn test
  • The one leg stand test

You may also be asked to breathe into the officer’s portable breath test device (PBT). This is the breathalyzer test.
Experienced DUI attorneys recommend that you should decline to take the field sobriety tests. They are purely voluntary and refusing to take the tests carries no penalties. You cannot be arrested for refusing to take the tests.

Why should you refuse to take a field sobriety test?
The field sobriety tests are purely voluntary. There are no penalties if you refuse to take the tests. However, on the other hand, if you agree to take the tests, they may give the officer a probable cause to make an arrest. The officer’s opinion on how you performed on the tests is accepted as evidence in a court of law.
The catch is that the PBT is not an accurate or reliable test of blood alcohol levels and is not admissible in court. It does serve as evidence against you, allowing the officer to argue that there was probably cause for an arrest. Refusing a field sobriety test is not enough cause for an arrest. With all of these in mind, DUI attorneys recommend refusing field sobriety tests as a first step in fighting a traffic ticket. In fact, if you politely refuse to take the field sobriety tests, the officer may not be able to claim probable cause for an arrest.

If you are facing DUI or traffic violation charges that you feel are wrong or unfair, an attorney can help you with fighting a traffic ticket. Given the serious consequences of a DUI conviction, it may be a good option for you.

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