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What is a field sobriety test and do I have to take one?

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2021 | Criminal Defense

A field sobriety test is a test given to identify if a person is impaired or intoxicated. Unlike a Breathalyzer test, this test doesn’t look at the body’s chemistry. Instead, it consists of three parts:

  • The walk-and-turn test
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN)
  • The one leg stand test

These three tests, when used in combination, have around an 82% accuracy rate. Unfortunately, that does mean that around 18 out of 100 people will be falsely accused of being intoxicated or not be identified as intoxicated when they are.

Each part of the field sobriety test is used to look at different aspects of your physical health. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is an eye test that looks for jerking in the motion of the eyes, which is more likely with intoxication. The walk-and-turn test looks at balance and the ability to follow directions. Similarly, the one-leg stand shows the officer if the person is able to balance on one foot or follow directions.

Do you have to take field sobriety tests?

Unlike a Breathalyzer test, you can refuse to take a field sobriety test. However, there are some pros and cons to doing so.

An officer will try to convince you to take these tests, because they want to collect evidence of your impairment. However, you can refuse. If you do, it is likely that you will be arrested and asked to perform additional testing at the police station. That testing could include Breathalyzer testing or other options.

If an officer is pressuring you to do the field sobriety tests when you do not wish to do so, you have the ability to state that you will not and that you’ll take the Breathalyzer test instead. If they continue to ask you to cooperate and you do not want to, you should know that you could be accused of being unfit to drive and be arrested. If you have a medical reason to refuse these tests, let the officer know. At that point, you have the option of asking for your attorney before you speak with the officer further about your situation.