One of the most common questions I get is whether one should take the Standard Field Sobriety Tests given by police officers. The answer is no.
We can all agree, I think, that drunk driving is bad. Buzzed driving is bad. What we don’t agree on, however, is what it means to be drunk. Law enforcement often use Standard Field Sobriety Tests to know whether you’re drunk. This is also bad.
Under Arkansas DWI law, you do not have to submit to Standard Field Sobriety Tests. There is no legal consequence for refusing to submit to Standard Field Sobriety Tests.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets out guidelines for the proper administration of field sobriety testing. The three most common test which you will encounter are the Walk and Turn, the One Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus tests. Most of the time, these tests will be conducted at the site of the traffic stop. However, in some cases weather or road conditions will cause the officer to transport the person stopped to another venue to conduct the tests.
In the Walk and Turn, the officer puts you in an instructional stage position and explains the test to you. You will then walk a straight line, taking nine heel-to-toe steps. At the end of nine steps, you will take a series of small steps to turn around and take another series of nine heel-to-toe steps. If you step off the line, sway too much, raise your hands too high, or do a number of other things, you give the officer clues to score your test.
In the One-Leg Stand Test, you raise one of your feet at least six inches off of the ground with your hands at your side while you count to thirty out loud. Again, swaying, raising your hands for balance, or placing your foot back on the ground before instructed to do so can all be used as clues about whether you’re intoxicated.
In the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the officer has you follow his or her finger with your eyes while not moving your head. If your eyes don’t track smoothly or you making involuntary twitches (known as nystagmus), you can fail this test.
Again, you have a choice as to whether you take the Standard Field Sobriety Tests. As you probably gathered from my descriptions, these tests are easy to fail, even if you’re sober. It is almost never in your favor to submit to a Standard Field Sobriety Test. (If the officer thinks you’re drunk, it’s almost impossible that you could convince him or her otherwise. Once you take the test, however, it’s almost certain that he or she will think you’re drunk—or at least have enough “information” to arrest you.)
Don’t confuse the Standard Field Sobriety Tests with a request to take a Breathalyzer Test. You can refuse that one, too, but it will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license.