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Do I Have To Take Field Sobriety Tests?

Posted by Robert Berglund | Mar 25, 2022

One question that DUI attorneys are frequently asked is whether or not a person is required to take Field Sobriety Tests (aka FST's) if a police officer asks them to do so.  The answer to that question is "no," unless the person is already on probation for a previous DUI conviction.  A person on probation who refuses FST's may violate the terms of his or her probation.  As we discuss on our Field Sobriety Tests page, these tests are given by law enforcement officers as part of a DUI investigation.  If an officer suspects that a driver may be impaired based on their preliminary observations of the person, e.g. the officer smells the odor of alcohol or can see an open container of alcohol inside the vehicle, they will usually ask the driver to take several FST's, most commonly the standardized tests which include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk-and-Turn, and One-Leg Stand. 

Field Sobriety Tests are intended to assist officers in objectively determining whether there is physical or mental evidence of intoxication and to provide probable cause to place the driver under arrest for DUI.  Another purpose of FST's is to gather evidence for use against the driver in court.  Officers use a point system with each test having "clues" of impairment.  However, whether or not the person "fails" the test is entirely subjective and, in reality FST's, as a result, can be highly inaccurate.  An officer could mistakenly find that a sober person "fails" the Walk-and-Turn test because they have poor balance and are unable to stand heel to toe and walk in a straight line.  

Another question that DUI attorneys are frequently asked is what happens if you refuse to do the FST's?  The answer to that is "it depends," however you will usually get arrested.  The fact that an officer requests an individual to do FST's is likely due to the officer having some belief that the person may be impaired.  If the person does not do the FST's then the officer has to go by what he has observed up to that point.  More times than not this will result in the driver getting arrested.  Sometimes the person can continue speaking with the officer and the officer may change their mind regarding the driver possibly being impaired and decide to let them go.  However, this latter outcome is not the more common one.  

It is usually a very wise decision, unless you are already on probation, to decline an officer's request to do FST's, especially if you have consumed alcohol or used any drugs.  You may be under the legal limit but if you do poorly on the FST's, according to the officer's testimony, that could be used to convict you of DUI.  Do not confuse the right to refuse the field sobriety tests with your obligations after you are placed under arrest for DUI.  Under California's implied consent law, you must submit to either a breath or a blood test if you are arrested.  If the officer suspects that you are under the influence of drugs you must submit to a blood test or, if you are unable to submit to a blood test, then a urine test.  If you refuse to submit to the required test, officers may get a search warrant to force you to submit to a blood test (you could literally be restrained why they do this if you physically resist).  The other adverse consequence for refusing the test is that the DMV will suspend your driver's license for one, two, or three years.  The exact duration depends on whether you have any prior DUI convictions.  

Berglund Law Office, P.C. specializes in representing persons arrested for DUI.  If you are facing charges, it best to have an experienced DUI lawyer by your side.  CONTACT our office today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.  

About the Author

Robert Berglund

Attorney Robert D. Berglund is dedicated to handling any and all traffic violations, including traffic infraction tickets, as well as misdemeanor criminal traffic violations, such as driving under the influence (DUI), driving on a suspended license, and reckless driving.


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