The field sobriety test (FST) is a standard tool for identifying drunk drivers, and if you are charged with DUI (driving under the influence) on the basis of a field sobriety test, you must obtain legal help by contacting an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney immediately.
Police officers have used the field sobriety test for decades, but is the field sobriety test a reliable and effective law enforcement tool – or is it a failure?
ARE FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS RELIABLE?
The Southern California Research Institute has conducted field sobriety test studies in controlled settings, and their results indicate that 32 percent of those who were deemed to be over the legal limit (a blood alcohol content or BAC at or above 0.08 percent) were not in fact above that limit.
For years, other studies have also confirmed that field sobriety tests are unpredictable and unreliable. Why, then, are the police still asking drivers suspected of DUI to take field sobriety tests? Are you required to take an FST? What if you’re arrested on the basis of an FST?
If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to those questions and more about DUI, the law, and your rights here in the state of California. You’ll also learn where to turn for help if you are arrested for driving under the influence on the basis of a field sobriety test.
WHAT ARE FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS?
Typically in California, if a police officer pulls over a motorist in traffic for a legal reason, and if that officer reasonably believes that the motorist is operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the officer will seek to conduct a series of field sobriety tests.
If the motorist’s field sobriety test performance tends to verify the officer’s belief, a breath test is usually next. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has endorsed three different field sobriety tests:
- the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test
- the walk-and-turn test
- the one-leg stand test
WHAT MAKES THESE TESTS UNRELIABLE?
These tests and their results are contested routinely in DUI cases. The lack of a baseline to measure the results against, the lack of a flat surface for a testing area, misunderstandings, injuries, and illnesses cause scores of entirely sober drivers to fail field sobriety tests.
But field sobriety tests are difficult to pass even if you’re both sober and healthy. The test that’s most popular among California police officers appears to be the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. How that test works is explained below.
Alcohol temporarily reduces the ability to control your eye muscles, and intoxication typically causes your eyes to jerk and bounce uncontrollably. In the HGN test, an officer slowly moves a pen, a flashlight, or a finger back and forth to determine if your eyes indicate impairment.
WHY ARE FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS STILL BEING USED?
It is an unreliable test – for all practical purposes, a guessing game. So why do the cops continue to conduct field sobriety tests? They have several reasons.
First of all, the police will want to compile as much evidence as possible against you before making a driving under the influence arrest, so anything that they can learn from a field sobriety test will be useful to them.
If you decline to take a field sobriety test, a police officer may interpret your refusal as an indication of guilt, and you may be arrested. After you’ve been arrested, if you are asked to take a breath, blood, or urine test for driving under the influence, the law requires you to take it.
WHEN CAN YOU DECLINE TO TAKE A FIELD SOBRIETY TEST?
For most drivers in California, if a police officer asks you to take a field sobriety test, the law allows you to decline – until and unless you are taken into custody.
The exceptions are for drivers under age 21 and for drivers who are currently on probation for an earlier driving under the influence conviction. These drivers must submit to a field sobriety test (or a breathalyzer test) upon a law enforcement officer’s request.
IF YOU ARE STOPPED BY THE POLICE, WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
Drivers in California need to know that a police officer will not inform you about your right to decline a field sobriety test. You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test (unless you fall into one of the exception categories), and your refusal cannot be used against you in court.
Do not be bullied or tricked into taking any DUI test against your will. In the Los Angeles area, if you are arrested for driving under the influence after declining a DUI test, you will need to contact – at once – an experienced drunk driving attorney in Los Angeles.
If you are legally arrested by a police officer who is convinced that you are impaired while driving, you must submit to at least one chemical test (breathalyzer, blood, or urine test) if the police request it
WHEN CAN YOU BE PENALIZED FOR REFUSING TO TAKE A DUI TEST?
A refusal to test after you’ve been arrested is considered an admission of guilt and entails its own legal consequences. You can spend time in jail for a refusal to test after being arrested, and your driver’s license will be suspended.
In 2016, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents, accounting for 28 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States. Driving under the influence is the most frequently charged crime in both the U.S. and in the state of California.
IF THE POLICE PULL YOU OVER, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
What is the best way to deal with being pulled over by the police when you drive in southern California?
- Be as pleasant and as cooperative as you can.
- Let the officer see your hands at all times.
- If the officer asks for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, show them.
After you produce these documents, you are not required to answer additional questions, and you should exercise your right to remain silent. If you’re arrested and charged with DUI, take your case – immediately – to an experienced drunk driving attorney in Los Angeles.
Do not try to act as your own attorney if you are accused of driving under the influence in the Los Angeles area. Your freedom and your future will be at stake, but the right attorney will fight aggressively for justice on your behalf.