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Why Field Sobriety Tests Put You at Risk

Police Car - MI Drunk Driving AttorneyIt happens to even the most responsible drivers on the road: you decide to drive home after just a beer or two, confident you are under the legal limit and capable of driving safely. Often, things go as planned and you arrive home safely without incident, but unfortunately, sometimes things go awry and you find yourself staring into the accusing face of a police officer.

What Happens Next?

Chances are the officer will jump to conclusions, based on your actions or appearance. Whether or not you really had too much to drink, he or she will notice everything that seems off-kilter and detect disorientation, as he fires questions at you about your evening. Getting pulled over is intimidating and it’s difficult to behave “normally,” which unfortunately can lead to suspicion.

It can also lead to your being asked to take a field sobriety test. This is a test to determine whether you have been drinking and whether you are capable of driving safely, right at the scene of where you have been pulled over.

These tests are designed for you to fail. As a matter of fact, most drivers fail field sobriety tests even if they have not consumed a drop of alcohol, in part because the test is so “on the fly.” Most people are nervous and have no idea what to expect, which leads to questions and confusion, all of which trigger a failure.

Consider a few of the mistakes you could make that would lead to failure:

• Beginning a test too soon, before the official “go” instruction is given
• Mis-reciting an altered version of the alphabet, including starting and stopping somewhere other than the beginning and end, or saying the letters backward. Our brains are wired to recite the alphabet as we have since we were young children, and even sober, altering how we do so is challenging.
• Losing balance during the walk and turn test. Have you ever lost your balance at a random time, when no alcohol was involved? This could just as easily happen mid-test. Failure could also be triggered if you pause while walking.
• Asking for further instructions mid-test. If you begin an exercise and stop to request clarification (something that is normal when you are nervous about a situation), it can result in failure.

This information published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences takes a more detailed look into why field sobriety tests are not as accurate as many believe.

Choosing Not to Perform a Field Sobriety Test

The good news is field sobriety tests are optional. Chances are the officer will not present the test to you in such a way that makes your choice obvious, but legally, you are not required to agree to a field sobriety test. This is different than the chemical breath, blood or urine tests which carry significant license penalties should they be refused by a driver.

Due to the subjective and unpredictable nature of field sobriety tests, most legal experts would recommend not volunteering for one. The decision to take or refuse these tests is extremely situational and each case needs to be evaluated based on the totality of the circumstances. A refusal to participate can trigger results that seem much worse, but in the long run could protect you from a DUI conviction.

Your goal when pulled over and accused of driving while intoxicated? Not giving the officer anything beyond what is required to use against you later in court.

If you have been accused of driving while intoxicated or you were arrested and you aren’t sure what comes next, we can help. Contact Michigan DUI/OWI Lawyer Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594 for more information or to schedule a consultation.

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