If the police pull you over for suspicion of DUI, you may be asked to step out of your car and perform a field sobriety test. Is it better to refuse a field sobriety test or not? It is, in fact, better to refuse a field sobriety test.
California law does not require you to take a field sobriety test. Your participation is voluntary, and the results will be detrimental to your DUI defense.
What You Need to Know About Field Sobriety Tests in California
All drivers in California should have a basic understanding of what is involved in a field sobriety test. A standard field sobriety test consists of three parts:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus. This portion of the test requires you to follow a moving object (often a pen or the police officer’s finger) with your eyes. If your eyes jerk while following the object, this can be an indication of intoxication.
- Walk-and-turn. This test requires you to walk forward, heel-to-toe, for a designated number of steps.
- One-legged stand. In this test, you must balance on one leg for a set amount of time.
While your performance of these tasks can be an indicator of your BAC level, there are many other factors that influence these tests. Some people will perform poorly while sober, and some people will perform satisfactorily after drinking.
While the science and logic behind field sobriety tests are shaky, the law is not. The most important thing to remember about field sobriety tests in California is that your participation is voluntary.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
If a police officer asks you to perform this test, it’s in your best interest to politely refuse. Law enforcement can’t arrest you just for refusing to do a field sobriety test.
The police can, however, arrest you if they have probable cause that you are intoxicated – but they won’t need field sobriety test results to “prove” your intoxication. Because once you are under arrest, California law requires you to submit to a breathalyzer, anyway.
So what is the point of field sobriety tests, then? These roadside tests are nothing more than icing on the cake for the prosecution. The results will only hurt your defense and bolster the prosecution’s case against you.
Nystagmus (Involuntary Eye Movements) Has Many Causes
Nystagmus, which is involuntary eye movements, can be an inherited condition. People may also experience nystagmus after a stroke or even during an ear infection. There is also emerging medical research that links nystagmus to COVID-19.
Nystagmus is a relatively common condition, but its presence can be used against you in a DUI conviction. And that’s one more reason why it is better to refuse a field sobriety test in California.
The Physical Portions of a Field Sobriety Test Measure Athletic Ability – and Not Much Else
Older individuals and people with certain health conditions are at a serious disadvantage. Countless medical conditions affect a person’s balance, including:
- High or low blood pressure
- Inner ear problems
- Low blood sugar
If a person has any issues with their hips, knees, ankles, or feet, they may not “pass” the walk-and-turn or one-legged stand tests.
Even the most agile individual can struggle with standing on one leg while in the comfort of their own home. Now imagine doing the walk-and-turn and one-legged tests at 2:00 a.m. by the side of the road, while lights flash in your eyes and traffic whizzes past.
5 Things You Should Do When Stopped for Suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated
Now you know that it is better to refuse a field sobriety test. But what should you do if stopped for a DUI? If you see flashing lights in your rearview, here are the five steps you should take.
1. Pull Over to the Side of the Road and Roll Down Your Window
Then place your hands on the steering wheel and keep them there. If you must get your license out of your pocket or insurance papers out of the glovebox, ask first. “My license is in my purse. Can I get it out?”
Don’t get out of your car unless the police officer asks you to do so.
2. Don’t Answer Leading Questions
Likely the first thing that the police officer will ask you is, “Do you know why I’m pulling you over?” This question is a trap. Whatever you do, don’t start guessing at their reasons! A simple, “No, I do not know why,” is sufficient.
Another question they may ask you is something along the lines of, “How much have you had to drink tonight?” You don’t have to answer that question, either, but you shouldn’t lie. You can politely respond, “I prefer not to answer any questions. Am I free to go?”
The officer pulled you over for a reason, so you probably won’t be able to go just yet. But this response lets the officer know that you are aware of your legal rights.
3. Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
When you refuse to participate in a field sobriety test, you do not have to give a reason. You can say, “I prefer not to participate.”
The police may continue to ask you questions, but stay calm and remain polite. Continue to say, “I prefer not to answer any questions, officer. Can I go now?”
4. Know California’s Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) Laws
If you are not under arrest, law enforcement may ask you to take a breathalyzer test on the spot, called a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS). In California, unless you are under 21 years of age or on DUI probation, you can refuse the PAS – and you should. Much like a field sobriety test, the results of a PAS will be used against you but won’t help your DUI defense.
If there is any doubt about whether you are in police custody, ask, “Am I under arrest?”
A PAS test is far from foolproof. The portable, handheld devices used for a PAS may not be calibrated correctly. And certain health conditions can affect PAS breath test results, like diabetes and GERD.
5. Know Your Rights if the Police Arrest You
If the police place you under arrest, California law requires you to submit to a breath, alcohol, or urine test to measure your BAC. It is in your best interest to take this test, as you will face separate penalties just for refusing, regardless of what your BAC is.
After an arrest, take the breathalyzer test and continue to invoke your right to remain silent. Ask to speak with a lawyer.
Get Legal Help After a California Field Sobriety Test
When it comes to, “Is it better to refuse a field sobriety test or not?” – the answer is clear. If you did do a field sobriety test, you should contact a Los Angeles DUI attorney to preserve your legal rights. Immediate legal representation is your best defense against a DUI charge.