Law enforcement in all 50 states is tasked with keeping drunk drivers off the roadways. To accomplish this important goal, they use a variety of sobriety tests to measure a driver’s level of inebriation and to determine if the person should be placed under arrest. Learn more about the tests used for drunk driving and what you can expect if a police officer pulls you over and gives you a sobriety test.
Field Sobriety Tests
Police officers have a variety of tests available to them to determine if you are driving while intoxicated. They can use a simple breath test or a more in-depth HGN, or horizontal gaze nystagmus, a test that requires you to perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for inebriated motorists.
The most common field sobriety test utilized by law enforcement officers involves blowing into a DUI breathalyzer device. This device measures the amount of alcohol vapor that is present in your breath. It gives a relatively accurate reading of your blood alcohol content or BAC, and lets officers know if you are above or below the legal limit for safely driving a car.
Along with using a breathalyzer, police officers can also administer a horizontal gaze nystagmus test to you in the field. This test monitors the involuntary jerking of your eyes as you gaze from side to side. If you are inebriated, the jerking of your eye will be more pronounced or exaggerated, indicating that you might be above the legal BAC limit.
If you fail the nystagmus test, you might then be asked to take another drunk test that could involve walking in a straight line and then turning around without falling over. The officer might also ask you to stand on one leg while holding your arms out straight to your sides. If you fall over or stumble, you could be placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI.
Police departments can also determine if you are drunk or under the influence of other substances by taking a blood or urine sample for you. They can also test your hair follicle for the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
However, because officers want to remove inebriated motorists from the roads quickly, many prefer to use the standard alcohol breathalyzer test. This alcohol blow test is accurate 85 percent of the times and can give a fast result to police officers in charge of keeping the public safe from inebriated drivers.
Consent for Testing Laws
Can you refuse to take a BAC test in the field? What would happen to you if you do not comply with the officer’s request that you submit to a breath test, HGN test, or another kind of DUI test without a lawyer present?
Unfortunately, you may not fare very well if you do not follow the police officer’s request that you undergo field sobriety testing. In fact, all 50 states have consent laws on the books that stipulate that you comply with DUI testing even if you do not have a legal representative with you.
Drivers in all 50 states give their implied consent to such testing when they apply for and obtain a driver’s license. They may not realize that they are giving consent when they get their licenses; nonetheless, they are bound by this implied consent law if or when they are pulled over and asked to go through testing for drunken driving.
Moreover, you can incur any number of legal punishments if you refuse to take a drunk driving test. Many states punish people’s refusal to do a field breathalyzer test by suspending their licenses for a minimum of 30 days. Other states even hand down short-term jail sentences to people who do not want to be tested in the field for possible inebriation.
Enforcing these penalties is easier today thanks to technology. In the past, officers had to get a paper warrant from a judge to compel people to go through testing for inebriation. By the time they got the warrants, the subjects of their investigations had sobered up, forcing the officers to release them without testing them first.
Now, police departments issue patrol officers smartphones that are capable of receiving electronic warrants. It now only takes a few minutes to get a warrant that mandates a suspect comply with testing.
Even if you still refuse to test, you still have legal rights that must be protected by law. One of those rights allows you to hire a DUI lawyer to represent you throughout your entire case.
Why Hire a DUI Attorney?
Why should you hire a DUI lawyer from the very onset of your legal case? Refusing to take a test in the field can bring with it punishments that could negatively impact and complicate your life. At the very least, you could have your license suspended for 30 to 90 days. If this is not your first offense for refusing to test, you could see it suspended for as long as six months to a year depending on what state in which you live.
Further, you could have to serve up to six days in jail and pay monetary fines to the court. These punishments mean that you cannot drive yourself to work or school. You also have to take time out of your life to serve your jail sentence as well as money out of your paycheck to pay your fines and court costs.
If you have a good reason for refusing the test, you should hire a DUI lawyer who can provide those reasons to the court and ask the judge to lower or drop the charges against you. For example, if you are pregnant, you may not have been able to safely comply with the officer’s request that you stand on one leg or walk in a straight line without toppling over. Despite the fact that you may not even have been drunk, you likewise may not have physically been able to carry out those tasks because of your pregnancy.
Likewise, if the results of your tests may have been skewed or impacted by other factors, you should allow your lawyer to prove those circumstances for you in court. DUI field and breath tests can be thrown off because of:
- body temperature
- device temperature
- poor machine calibration
- the weather like high winds that are difficult to stand in
- the glare of headlights or pebbles on the shoulder that caused you to trip or stumble
All of these factors can skew or compromise the results of your test and cause a police officer to believe that you are drunk when in fact you are sober. Because the law allows you to have the test results examined more thoroughly, you should hire a lawyer who specializes in DUI law to review those results and find information that could prove your innocence.
Your attorney can also step in from the first day of your case to ensure that all of your legal rights are protected. For instance, you do not have to undergo questioning without a lawyer present. You also have the right against illegal searches and seizures, which organizations like the ACLU contend is violated with field sobriety testing.
If your lawyer finds any discrepancies in your testing or the way that you were treated after you were arrested, he or she can go to court and provide that evidence to the judge. You may have the charges against you lowered or dropped.
Law enforcement officers can use a variety of tests today to tell if you are driving while drunk. You should learn how these tests are carried out in the field and what rights you are entitled to by law if you are detained and arrested on suspicion of DUI.