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Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?


You’re not required to participate in a field sobriety test, as there isn’t a penalty if you refuse to submit to them. Usually, an officer will then administer a preliminary breath test (PBT) during the traffic stop.

Charged with DUI and/or refusing a field sobriety test? Unhappy with your current attorney? Request a free consultation now.

In Michigan, police officers are trained to use field sobriety tests to detect impairment during a drunk driving investigation. These tests are used to determine whether there’s probable cause to arrest for DUI.

These three tests were created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and are as follows:

1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

During this test, the officer checks the eyes of the suspected drunk driver to determine if “nystagmus” occurs. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye, which is typically a side effect of alcohol intoxication. The officer must conduct this test exactly as he was taught; otherwise, the test is meaningless.

The officer moves an object smoothly (pen or finger) across the person’s field of vision. They’re looking for “clues” in three separate stages. One of the clues is wavering eye contact with the object.

This test is often criticized due to many officers’ failure to properly administer the test. However, if done properly, this test is the most accurate indicator of impairment of the three tests.

2. Walk-and-Turn

People are most familiar with the walk-and-turn test. This is when someone is told to take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn around, and take the same amount of steps back. All of this must be accomplished with arms at the sides and staying in a straight line. Officers look for eight “clues” on this test.

However, the police are notorious for exaggerating someone’s results on these tests. A thorough review of the dash-cam video can show the officer giving wrong or unclear instructions. This type of footage can be great for showing the officer “misremembered” something. If someone exhibits less than two clues on this test, it indicates their blood alcohol content (BAC) is not over .08.

3. One-Leg Stand

Even on our best days, few people pass this test sober. The person is instructed to raise a leg of their choosing six inches off the ground and hold it for approximately 30 seconds. Essentially, they’re standing on one foot. The police look for four clues during this test.

Usually, a person will put their foot down early or “hop/sway.” It takes very little to “fail” this test; two clues give the officer some evidence that you may be impaired.

Charged with DUI and/or refusing a field sobriety test? Unhappy with your current attorney? Request a free consultation now.

What If I Refuse to Take a Field Sobriety Test?

Can you refuse a field sobriety test?

As mentioned earlier, you’re not required to participate in a field sobriety test as there isn’t a penalty if you refuse to do so. Usually, an officer will then administer a preliminary breath test (PBT) during the traffic stop.

If your breath sample is .08 or above, you’ll be arrested for driving under the influence. You can also refuse the PBT, but it’s a civil infraction and carries a small fine. If you refuse to take the DataMaster at the police station, your driver’s license will face immediate license suspension under Michigan’s implied consent laws.

Challenging a Standardized Field Sobriety Test

While these tests may seem easy, numerous factors can cause a false positive. People with head injuries are set up to fail on the HGN, while those with back/leg/knee problems struggle with the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests. That’s why it’s crucial to give your lawyer a thorough history of your medical conditions. This can give your lawyer solid defenses to argue on your behalf.

Most importantly, your lawyer should remind the judge/jury that the officer was taught to do these tests properly during the academy. This could have occurred five, 10 or even 15 years prior. A skilled DUI lawyer attends a standardized field sobriety test training session at least once every two years. Therefore, criticizing their instruction, evaluation, and documentation of these tests can lead to inadmissible evidence and even a full case dismissal.

To summarize: your field sobriety tests results, along with blood test and chemical test results, are powerful evidence against you. If you agree to perform the tests, you must hire a lawyer who’s qualified to attack the administration of the tests.

Remember; these tests are designed for you to fail. Fighting back against them is key to winning your case.

Charged with DUI and/or refusing a field sobriety test? Unhappy with your current attorney? Request a free consultation now.

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