Do I Really Have to Take Those Sobriety Tests?

Anybody who is over the age of 21 and has a driver’s license knows that there can be severe repercussions if they’re found to be operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of over .08 percent. They can be subject to high fines, mandatory alcohol and substance abuse classes, loss of their driver’s license and even loss of their freedom.

Immediate Assessment

A DUI assessment begins as soon as a driver opens their window. Police officers are trained to make such evaluations, and if they detect glassy or bloodshot eyes, slurred speech or the odor of an alcoholic beverage, they will ask the driver to step out of the vehicle, also studying how well the driver performs that maneuver. Sometime after that, the officer will ask the driver to take a series of field sobriety tests.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Police officers across the country ask drivers whom they suspect of being intoxicated to perform three types of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Those consist of the following:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test — the driver visually tracks a moving object
  • The one-leg stand test — the driver raises one leg about 6 inches from the ground and counts to 30.
  • The walk and turn test — the subject walks heel to toe for nine steps on a line, pivots and then returns another nine steps to the point of origin.

Most people don’t even realize that when they’re performing these tests, they’re on video. That serves as compelling evidence against them.

The Test Request

Take notice of the fact that the detaining police officer asks the subject to perform the tests. Usually, the officer will say something like “Here’s what I’d like you to do.” They can’t compel a person to take the tests. Because there is no law requiring the driver to perform any field sobriety test, he or can politely refuse to submit to one.

Portable Breath Testing

Don’t confuse a portable breath testing (PBT) device with the breath testing machine at the police station. PBT results aren’t admissible into evidence in a trial. Their purpose is to determine whether you should go to the police station for testing on a certified machine. If you refuse the standardized tests, the officers will likely take you into custody anyway.

Breath Testing at the Station

After you arrive at the station, an officer will ask you to blow into a certified breath testing machine. Because this lays the proper evidentiary foundation, its result on your blood alcohol content will be admissible in a DUI trial. Your driver’s license could get suspended if you don’t blow into it, but if you’ve been drinking, you might want to consider refusing that test too. You’d only be giving the police and prosecutors the evidence they need to convict you.

Blood Testing

A registered phlebotomist, nurse or doctor can take a blood sample from you to determine your blood alcohol content. You can refuse that test too unless the police have obtained a search warrant. That leaves the detaining officer three choices.  They can rely on the facts of the case and charge you with DUI, but it’s your word against theirs, which is not enough to secure a conviction. Or they could cite you for an ordinary traffic violation or let you find a ride home.

If you refuse to test from the start, and the police can’t get a warrant, they won’t have much evidence against you. On the other hand, if a warrant does get issued, you need to be cooperative. After that, contact a quality DUI defense lawyer right away.