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Why you should refuse a field sobriety test

If a police officer pulls you over, it must be because he or she has a reason. You may have made an illegal turn, your car's headlight may be out or you might have driven through a stop sign. The officer will likely check your driver's license and registration for any problems on your record, issue a citation or a warning, and send you on your way.

However, if the officer asks you if you have been drinking, you may have cause for greater concern. This question means the officer already has a suspicion that you are impaired, and he or she may be looking for probable cause to make an arrest. That probable cause may come in the form of a failed roadside sobriety test.

Unreliable test results

Police may request that you step out of the car and participate in a battery of tests formally known as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. These tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn. What you may not realize is that the officer's request is just that: a request, not a command. The officer may phrase it in such a way that causes you to believe you have no choice, but you do have a choice.

In fact, many criminal defense attorneys recommend that you do not agree to SFSTs for these reasons:

  • The tests are subjective: Behaviors or variations in your performance on the test may be a passing score for one officer and a failing score for another. Studies have proven this.
  • The conditions are uncontrollable: In addition to your level of anxiety when police stop you, you may also be taking SFSTs on the side of a deserted road or close to racing highway traffic, with flashing lights in your eyes, traffic noise and uneven terrain.
  • You may have physical issues: Countless medical conditions may affect your balance and coordination, slur your speech, or even exaggerate your eyes' natural jerking motion.
  • The officer may be passionate about arresting drunk drivers: This is a good thing, but a conscientious police officer may already believe you are impaired and feel it is his or her duty to get you off the roads.

You may think that submitting to SFSTs is the best way to prove you are not impaired. However, over 30 percent of sober drivers who agree to the tests face arrest for impairment. Even if later blood or breath tests prove otherwise, your criminal record will still show an arrest for DUI. Unlike chemical blood alcohol content tests, Ohio law does not obligate you to submit to any field sobriety tests. You can politely refuse and reach out for legal advice.

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