Getting pulled over and accused of drunk driving is intimidating. Anyone in this situation likely has a lot of questions. What should you say? What should you do? How serious is the situation?
Although the answers vary with each case, it is generally best to act respectful during the stop. The officer may ask you to take some field sobriety tests. This is generally not required. Florida’s implied consent law requires drivers submit to chemical tests, like a breathalyzer, if arrested for drunk driving. A failure to abide by this law can come with serious consequences, like a driver’s license suspension.
This is different from a request to take field sobriety tests.
What is a field sobriety test?
Officers use field sobriety tests to gather evidence to help determine if the driver is impaired. The request to take the test is just that – a request. You can decline.
The field sobriety test is generally a set of tests that consist of three phases:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. This first test involves the officer tracking the driver’s eyes as they move from left to right or right to left. The officer is looking for any involuntary jerking of the eyes. The driver likely passes if the eyes move smoothly.
- Walk and Turn. This test analyzes how a driver can function when their attention is divided. The officer will give instructions on how to complete the test. During the instructions the officer is checking to see if you can pay attention and if you can maintain your balance. The test itself consists of walking heel-to-toe on a line.
- One Leg Stand. This is also a divided attention test. The officer will give instructions during the test and can have the driver stand on one leg for 30 seconds.
These tests have flaws and even sober drivers can fail.
Although you are within your legal rights to refuse a field sobriety test, the officer could still move forward with an arrest. It is important to note that the arrest is not for refusing the field sobriety test. The officer would need to show other evidence is present to support the arrest. This could include a strong smell of alcohol, slurred speech, and observed traffic violations.
Are field sobriety tests flawed?
Although enforcement authorities argue these tests have value, it is important to note that there are issues with each of the tests. Nystagmus is not only present because of intoxication. It can also signal a medical condition that does not impact a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle. The surface used for the walking test can impact the results, as any change in consistency of the surface or cracks can skew the results. The officer could argue that you failed for something like starting too soon, taking a brief stop while walking, or using arms to help maintain balance.
When it comes to balance, the one leg stand test is particularly difficult. The officer will note if you sway, hop, or use arms while attempting to maintain balance on one leg. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that research shows an individual with a blood alcohol content of 0.10 can maintain their balance on one foot for up to 25 seconds. As a result, the agency encourages officers aim for 30 second to get accurate data.
There are specific instructions and training sessions to help better ensure officer administer the tests correctly. Improper administration of the test can lead to inaccurate results.
It is important to build a defense to allegations of drunk driving whether you took and failed a field sobriety test or refused the test and was arrested based on other evidence. It is best to take this into account and tailor a defense strategy to the situation. An attorney can review your case and discuss your options.