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Can you refuse a field sobriety test?

If an officer pulls you over and suspects you’re intoxicated, you may worry that you will have to submit to any test they want you to perform. In certain cases, noncompliance can come with consequences. Yet, this is not so with field sobriety tests. And submitting to one could cause you to incriminate – rather than help – yourself.

Questions of reliability

Officers use field sobriety tests to help determine your level of intoxication. If you consent to participate in them, you will endure a series of coordination routines designed to measure your sobriety. Most police departments rely on three different tests. Horizonal gaze nystagmus tests measure the jerking of your eyes when following an object, which intoxication makes more pronounced. One-leg stand tests measure your ability to remain balanced. And walk-and-turn tests measure your ability to maintain divided attention.

Unlike breath, urine or blood tests, field sobriety tests face subjective judgment. By performing them, you are at the mercy of the arresting officer’s perception. They may fail to account for reasons of poor performance besides intoxication. If an officer pressures you in any way, this could happen due to duress. And the testing area may not be level, which could throw off your coordination.

Legal concerns

Field sobriety tests are rarely the sole factor in an officer’s decision to apprehend you. Performing them could corroborate their decision to do so. But refusing one is unlikely to lead to your arrest alone. An officer may demand that you perform these tests. But Pennsylvania has no law that requires you to do so. The state’s implied consent laws, however, mandate that you submit to breath, urine or blood tests as necessary.

Cooperating with officers makes sense in many instances. But submitting to a field sobriety test is an exception to this rule. If you consented to one that seemed unreliable, an attorney can help protect you moving forward.



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