Must I submit to a field sobriety test in California? It is quite common during the holidays especially New Year’s Eve for motorists in California including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to be pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence (“DUI”). It is common for most law enforcement personnel in California to administer Field Sobriety Tests to determine if there is “probable cause” to arrest someone for DUI. Contrary to popular belief, persons stopped for DUI area not required to submit to such tests and in many instances in California the tests given are unreliable. It is important to understand your right to refuse such test as in many DMV hearings and DUI trials, the DMV and juries rely on these tests in making a finding guilt or an administrative finding suspending a person’s license.
Most Commonly Used Evidence In a California DUI Criminal Case or DMV Hearing
Evidence that is used against an arrestee in a California DMV Hearing and in a California DUI criminal case include:
- Statements made by the arrestee that incriminate themselves — “I had 2 drinks three hours ago.”
- Symptoms of being under the influence observed by the arresting officer – Bloodshot eyes, disoriented, slurred speaking
- Unlawful driving patterns related to DUI — changing lanes without signaling, driving on the lane, weaving, sudden stops, driving too fast or too slow.
- Blood-Alcohol Chemical Tests – Blood or breath test and sometimes urine when blood and breath tests are not available or working properly. Also, many drivers are given a roadside or Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test (breath test) to determine if there is cause to arrest and do a further breath or blood test.
- Field Sobriety Tests
Reliability of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)
Field sobriety tests or “FSTs” are a series of physical tests which persons are made to perform to help an arresting officer determine if there is cause to arrest a person for DUI. Often times these tests are unreliable and an experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge such tests both in a DMV hearing and at a criminal trial. The FSTs are designed to test coordination, divided attention (being able to do 2 physical tasks at one) and balance. There are several different FSTs used by law enforcement at their discretion. The most common FSTs used by law enforcement include the walk the line and turn, the gaze nystagmus (following an object with your eyes as your head faces forward toward the object), the position of attention (“Rhomberg Test”), finger to nose and the alphabet or number backwards recitation and the hand-pat test. As everyone knows and has already most likely tried, these tests are very difficult to pass when no alcohol has been consumed. An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge the accuracy of these test both on cross-examination of an arresting officer and by calling an expert to challenge the scientific accuracy of these tests. The results of these tests are usually admissible in a California DMV hearing and criminal case so it is important to have a qualified criminal defense lawyer discredit the results of any such tests.
Experts usually will agree that most studies including a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) show that only three field sobriety tests are reliable in determining whether someone is under the influence: walk and turn, one-leg-stand and gaze nystagmus. As such, an experienced criminal defense attorney will show that all other field sobriety tests are unreliable and should not be considered. Unfortunately, despite most law enforcement agencies policy of only giving the three approved tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, law enforcement in California, usually ignore the nationwide rule and give whatever tests they prefer.
Should I Submit to An Field Sobriety Test in California?
If you are pulled over on New Year’s Eve or any other day for that matter and an officer starts questioning you concerning issues related to drinking and driving, you are not legally required to answer any questions. Likewise, if the officer asks you to submit to a battery of Field Sobriety Tests most of which are unreliable as found by the NHTSA, you don’t have to submit to such tests but that will likely upset the officer and he or she in most cases will still arrest you and required a person to take a breath or blood test. If you refuse to take a breath or blood test in California, the DMV in most cases will automatically suspend your license for 1 year and will not able to get a restricted license. Many people have physical limitations or injuries which will prevent them from even attempting to successfully complete a battery of FSTs and those physical injuries or limitations should be communicated to the officer. In most cases, people want to cooperate with law enforcement and will take the requested Field Sobriety Tests but you should know that most are unreliable except for the 3 tests approved by the NHTSA. As such, if you are charged with a DUI an the officer claims you failed the FSTs, you should immediately consult an experienced criminal defense DUI attorney who in most cases can challenged the tests both in a DMV hearing and in a criminal DUI case.
The Best Thing You Can do if Arrested for DUI in California is Hire a Quality Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer
Whether you submit to an FST or not, whether you have a blood alcohol content screening at the scene or at the station by way of a breathlyzer or blood draw, if this results in an arrest and charges filed for DUI, the best thing you can do to have the best chance of retaining your license and keeping a conviction from ruining your life is to hire a good quality defense attorney. Defense attorneys can analyze the evidence and determine if substantive or procedural errors were made and can get charges reduced or dismissed. For more information, call our offices anywhere in CA including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Berardino Counties at (310) 623-3771 .