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Do I have to take field sobriety tests in California?

The standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are tests and procedures that are supposed to help police decide if they should arrest a driver on suspicion of drunk driving. However, as many innocent people have learned, these tests are not always accurate and can cause people to be arrested even if they are not driving impaired.

Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in California traffic stops. In many cases, trying to do these tests for the police can be used against drivers without any real benefit. The good news for drivers arrested for a DUI in California is that an experienced DUI defense lawyer understands how to challenge these test results and the imperfect science behind these tests.

Can I refuse to do field sobriety tests after a traffic stop in California?

Yes. You can refuse to do a field sobriety test after a traffic stop in California. There are three commonly performed SFSTs used by law enforcement in California, including the walk-and-turn testone-leg-stand test, and the eye test.

During a traffic stop, if the officer suspects the driver to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the officer may ask the suspect to perform these tests. These tests are not mandatory and there are no penalties for refusing to do field sobriety tests after a traffic stop.

What happens if I refuse to take the field sobriety tests?

Even though there are no penalties for refusing a field sobriety test, the police may make it seem like it is in your best interest to do these tests. The officers may say something like “If you're not drunk, you don't have anything to hide,” or “If you don't do these tests, I'm just going to arrest you now.”

It is important for you to understand your rights when deciding if you should or should not do these tests. Talk to your California DUI defense lawyer about your case and how you should handle police questioning and demands.

Will the police arrest me for a DUI if I don't do a field sobriety test?

The purpose of these tests is to give the police as much evidence as possible to justify an arrest. If the police make it seem like you will be arrested if you don't do the tests, the officer was likely to arrest you anyway but just wanted to get some extra evidence to use against you.

If I'm not drunk, what do I have to lose by doing field sobriety tests?

The problem with field sobriety tests is that a sober person can fail them and a drunk person can pass them. These tests are not always accurate and an innocent person could be unfairly treated because the officer claimed they failed the tests.

There are a number of reasons that someone could “fail” one of these tests that are totally unrelated to alcohol or drugs. This includes:

  • Medical problems,
  • Medications,
  • Environmental conditions,
  • Age,
  • Weight,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Incorrect instructions, or
  • Improper observations.

Is following a pen with my eyes a type of field sobriety test?

Police officers may ask a driver to follow a pen or finger as it moves while shining a light into the driver's eyes. This is one of SFSTs known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. Generally, alcohol over a certain amount will make a person's eyes react differently when tracking an object. The police may use their observations of this test to determine whether they have probable cause to arrest the driver on suspicion of a DUI.

The HGN eye test, like other field sobriety tests, is not always accurate. Sober people can “fail” this test and drivers with a BAC over the limit can “pass” this test. This is one of the reasons that people may decide to refuse these inaccurate tests.

If the police officer is asking you to follow an object with your eyes, you can refuse. The officer may make it seem like things will go worse for you for refusing a field sobriety test. It is up to the court to decide if you are guilty of a crime and not the police officer on the side of the road.

Contact East Bay DUI Attorney Lynn Gorelick

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of DUI experience and understands the way police officers and prosecutors use field sobriety tests against a suspect. She also understands how to challenge these results and fight for her clients to keep them out of jail and with a clean record. Representing drivers across Contra Costa and Alameda counties, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, and the local officers and prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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