The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

Field Sobriety Tests: Do I Have To? Should I?

Some of you have already been lucky enough to be harassed at a constitutionally-questionable DUI checkpoint. Others have seen field sobriety testing happen on COPS. Most of you at least have a general idea of what the FST tests are about, though you still probably have some questions.

You have questions? We have answers:

What are the tests?

Most departments in the country subscribe to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NTHSA) standard battery of three tests. These tests, when done properly, supposedly are about 91% accurate, according to a 1998 study done on participants with a 0.08 blood alcohol contents.

Other tests, which many can't do sober, include saying the alphabet backwards, counting by 7's, and doing cartwheels.

HGN Test

This is the old "follow this pen light with your eyes" test. The officer, who has an extremely bad case of halitosis, holds a light in front of your eyes and tells you to track it with your pupils. If your pupils tweak out when looking to the sides, or you can't follow the light smoothly, there's a good chance you're drunk. HGN can also indicate the presence of seizure medications, pencylindine, inhalants, barbituates, and depressants

Walk and Turn

The officer gives you instructions. You then take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After the nine steps, you must turn on one foot and return in the same manner. The officer is looking for you to sway during the instructions, take the wrong number of steps, or face-plant into a curb. Those who are disabled or just really, really uncoordinated could have false positives.

One Leg Stand

You stand on one foot. The other is held six inches off the ground. You are instructed to count by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two) until the officer is done laughing at you. You're then told to put your foot down. Swaying, using your arms to balance, hopping like a bunny, or giving up and standing with dignity are all signs that you are possibly drunk.

Do I have to?

Well, there is no law that says you do. Implied consent is the first thing that comes to mind, but it only requires that you submit to chemical testing via blood or breath. As for engaging in circus acts on the side of the road, that is up to you. The Fifth Amendment supports the notion that you don't have to provide extra evidence of your guilt. Your refusal of field sobriety tests also can't be brought up in court as evidence of guilt.

Should I

This is purely a judgment call that you'll have to make. Of course, alcohol affects your judgment, so good luck.

If you're sober, passing means you go home quicker. If you refuse, and there are other signs of intoxication (red eyes, whiskey breath), you're headed for a blood or breath test and probably a night in the drunk tank.

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