Roadside sobriety tests, by design, allow an officer to determine whether there is probable cause to charge a motorist with Driving under the Influence (DUI).
The test results, however, are based on the officer’s personal perception in a lot of cases. For instance, if the officer is convinced that you have been drinking, but you are able to perform all the tasks in the field sobriety test, the officer’s personal bias may affect his ability to remain objective when filling out his report.
A typical field sobriety test will allow the officer to test the suspect’s balance, ability to speak coherently, ability to walk in a straight line, etc. Under Arizona law, you are not required to take a roadside field sobriety test. However, refusing to do so will not prevent the officer from arresting you if he has probable cause to believe there is reasonable evidence to justify a warrant.
Field Sobriety Tests Explained
Usually, the motorist is expected to satisfy the conditions of three field sobriety tests. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), looks for an involuntary twitch in the motorist’s eye, when they are looking sideways at an angle less than 45 degrees. Thus behavior is known as a Nystagmus, and should only occur in a sober person at a greater than 45 degree angle.
The walk-and-turn (WAT) test will help the officer determine the motorist’s attention levels while walking, turning and following verbal instructions. The theory is that people under the influence of drugs or alcohol will have difficulty performing all these tasks without getting confused or staggering.
The final standard test is the one-leg stand which allows the officer to observe balance and coordination. Depending on the perceived level of intoxication, the officer may ask the motorist to perform other motor functions such as touching the tip of the nose with a finger, counting backwards, or reciting the alphabet.
These standard tests were designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, these are not the only field sobriety tests an officer can ask you to perform.
Further Field Sobriety Tests
The officer can also ask you to count how many fingers he is holding up, read nearby signs, stand with your feet together while your head is tipped backwards or perform a variety of simple tasks with your eyes closed. Usually, the fact that the officer is asking you to perform additional tests means he is unable to reasonably conclude that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol using the standard tests.
Again, the problem with these kinds of tests is that they are completely subjective. Your fate is determined by how the officer interprets your performance during the tests. The evidence recorded during testing is admissible in court, so think carefully before agreeing to roadside field sobriety tests.
What Happens if I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
If you exercise your right to refuse a field sobriety test, the officer will need probable cause to arrest you. He may ask you to take a breath test which you can also refuse. At this stage, the officer can only arrest you if he has observed behavior that would suggest you are intoxicated such as smelling alcohol on your breath or he can cite a specific traffic law you have broken. If you are arrested you are obligated under the law to submit to breath or chemical testing. Arizona’s “implied consent” law, however, means that if you refuse to perform these tests, you will lose your license for a year or longer. The upside of refusing roadside field sobriety tests is that you can fight your case based on a more level playing field. After all, the officer’s testimony cannot include your reactions to testing if you refused to participate.
Should I Comply with Roadside Field Sobriety Tests?
Ultimately, the decision is yours. However, it’s a tough call as to how refusal will affect a DUI case against you. On a positive note, the court will have to rely on the testimony of the officer. On the same token, though, refusal can act against you as an indication of guilt. Depending on which state the alleged offense took place, there are other penalties that you may incur from refusing to perform roadside field sobriety or breath tests. You could have your license suspended for a period of time or, in some states, you could end up serving a minimum sentence if you are found guilty of a DUI. Obviously, if you have not been drinking or taking drugs, agreeing to breath or chemical testing will actually help your case. When it comes down to it, your decision whether to accept the tests or not should be based on the specific circumstances of the situation.
The materials provided herein have been prepared by Matthew Lopez Law for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. No client or other reader should rely on or act or refrain from acting on the basis of any matter or information contained in on the website of Matthew Lopez Law without seeking appropriate legal or other professional advice.