If an officer has pulled you over with suspicion that you have been drinking, you will be asked to exit your vehicle and to perform some tests, collectively called the Field Sobriety Test. If you have consumed any alcohol, you should refuse and decline any and all field sobriety tests that the officer asks you to perform. The reason why is because the officer already suspects you of driving while intoxicated. He is not asking you to take these tests to make sure you ARE NOT drunk; rather, he is trying to build a case against you so that he can charge you with DWI and have you take a chemical test.
The 3 most common field sobriety tests and the ones recommended by the NHTSA are the Horizontal Gauge Nystagmus test, the Walk-and-Turn test, and the One Leg Stand, but the “finger to nose” and “reverse alphabet” tests are also common.
In the Horizontal Gauge Nystagmus test, the officer will instruct you to follow a pen, his finger, or a flashlight, as he slowly moves it horizontally across your field of vision. The idea is, if you’re intoxicated, your eyes will jerk or twitch.
In the Walk-and-Turn test, the officer will have you walk in a straight line, turn on one foot, and take 9 steps back. The officer is hoping that, if you are intoxicated, you will fall, use your arms for balance, and move off the imaginary line.
With the One Lag Stand test, the officer will tell you to stand on one leg for 30 seconds. If you hop, fall, use your arms for balance, or put your foot down early, that constitutes failing that test.
Another common test is reciting the alphabet backwards.
When you are pulled over, most likely in the middle of the night, you will probably be nervous, and neither you nor the police officer will be able to see well. If the officer asks you to touch your finger to your nose, and passing the test is touching the tip of your finger to the tip of your nose, and failing is touching the pad of your finger to the tip of your nose, what is the likelihood that the officer will see what he wants to see in the middle of the night? His or her perception is already biased. The margin of error is significant. It is dark but interrupted by very bright flashing lights. All these things considered, these tests combined with these factors amount to a slim chance you will pass all the tests, even if you are completely sober. This is not a fair judgment of whether your ability to drive is impaired.
It is important to address that there are no legal or financial ramifications for your refusal to perform the field sobriety test. The officer may get angry and continue to try and get you to perform these tests. Most likely, his wording will sound like a statement that is actually in the form of a question. It is understandable that you may feel scared or nervous to refuse the test of an angry officer, but remember, he or she cannot force you to take the test, and there is no law against refusing to perform the test. The officer can note in the case that you refused to perform the field sobriety test, and that you were uncooperative at worst, but that is it.
It is much better than giving the officer more evidence to charge and convict you with DWI, and if you fail the tests, it gives him probable cause to give you a chemical test. Even without the chemical test, which can lead to another charge of DWI from having a BAC of .08 or above, there is also the “Common Law DWI” (1192-3 V&T law – Common Law DWI) charge that can be given based solely on the officer’s determination that your ability to drive is impaired by intoxication via the field sobriety test.
There is little to gain by taking the field sobriety test. If you are completely sober, calm trust in your coordination, and just want to get home or to work, then it may be more convenient to take the field sobriety test. But chances are, if you meet all of the above conditions, the officer has no reason to further deter you for chemical testing or for arrest anyway, and should be sending you on your way.
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