Field sobriety tests in California are entirely voluntary, but drivers using public roads are understood to have implicitly consented to take a blood, breath, or urine test upon a police officer’s request. Unless you are arrested for a DUI, you always have the option of refusing to take a field sobriety test, and that refusal cannot be held against you in court.
Taking the test, on the other hand, allows the legal system to use any findings against you. This blog will explain what a field sobriety test consists of, and what consequences you might encounter if you refuse to take one. If you were recently asked to take a field sobriety test, whether or not you accepted, please contact a Tehama County DUI lawyer. Whatever your situation is, if you have been accused of a DUI, we have the experience and we will be there to guide you toward the best possible outcome.
California Field Sobriety Tests: NHTSA-Approved and Unapproved
If a California police officer requests that you take a field sobriety test, it will likely be one of three: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. These three tests are prevalent across the United States because they have the backing of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as reliably identifying impairment due to drug or alcohol consumption. You might also be asked to perform a Romberg test or a finger-to-nose test, but these have not been standardized for country-wide use by the NHTSA.
Each test is largely self-identifying by name, except perhaps the more scientific-sounding horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In this test, the police officer will move an object, possibly a pen or his finger. If you can follow the object with your eyes, without any involuntary eye movements and without moving your head, you will have passed this field sobriety test.
By contrast, the walk-and-turn test as well as the one-leg stand test focus more on your bodily coordination.
The walk-and-turn test asks you to step one foot in front of the other, in a straight line, for nine steps, until you turn around and repeat the same steps in the opposite direction. With this test, the officer will be checking an impairment in your balance, like stretching out your arms to balance yourself or ignoring their instructions.
Meanwhile, the one-leg stand test involves standing on one leg, the other raised at least six inches, and counting for as long as the officer tells you to. Here the officer will be checking to see if you are hopping or trying to put your foot down, in addition to checking for swaying or arm balancing, as in the walk-and-turn test.
Refusing a Field Sobriety Test in California
Refusing to take a field sobriety test can harm your future defense lawyer’s available arguments, while the prosecution may present your refusal as an acknowledgment of your own guilt.
And you may end up in court, because if you refuse to take a field sobriety test and the officer still suspects you might have been driving under the influence, the officer is now allowed to arrest you, under California Vehicle Code 23613. Once arrested, you may be asked to take a chemical test, like a blood or breath test. You would then face the possibility of a year-long suspension without the possibility of a replacement, limited driving permit. Your insurance rates might also increase with a conviction particularly if you’ve been arrested before for DUIs.