Just Say No to Field Sobriety Testing

When a police officer orders a driver to stop his or her vehicle, the driver’s first instinct typically is to sheepishly admit the mistake and answer the officer’s questions.  The officer asks if the driver had been drinking and the driver responds with the standard “one or two beers.”  The driver mistakenly believes that honesty will somehow get the driver out of the situation and avoid an arrest.  Unfortunately, the driver couldn’t be more wrong.

Having undergone the same alcohol detection training that is required of police officers, I can tell you that if the officer asks a driver to step out of the vehicle, the driver is likely facing arrest.  Alcohol detection consists of three phases. The first phase is known as “Vehicle In Motion.”  Officers are trained on 24 visual cues of a vehicle which would prompt an officer to stop the vehicle for the purpose of a possible DUI.  By the time an officer knocks on the driver’s window, the officer already has noted some aspect of the vehicle’s movement…whether you agree or not…which prompted the officer to stop the vehicle.

The next phase is “Personal Contact.”  In this phase, the officer is trained to ask the driver questions with the goal of dividing the driver’s attention.  The officer may ask the driver to retrieve the license and registration and then ask whether the driver had been drinking, where the driver is coming from, or a personal question such as the driver’s birthday.  Not only is the officer observing how the driver responds to these commands and questions, the officer also is noting observations of the driver’s appearance.  There isn’t a DUI arrest report anywhere which doesn’t contain the standard “odor of alcohol” and “bloodshot eyes” descriptions of the driver.  In the Personal Contact phase, the officer is deciding whether to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle.  If the officer asks the driver to step out, then the final phase of “Pre-Arrest Screening” begins.  In this phase, the officer administers field sobriety tests to the driver, which the driver will almost certainly fail…no matter how well the driver thinks he or she performed.

Drivers need to be aware that there is no legal requirement or obligation to perform field sobriety tests. All field sobriety tests do is provide the officer with additional evidence which will ultimately be used against the driver.  A common response to this reasoning is “the officer will arrest me if I don’t do the field sobriety tests.”  But remember, once the officer asks the driver to step out of the vehicle, the officer is likely going to arrest the driver anyway. The question a driver needs to ask is not “will the officer arrest me,” but “when the officer arrests me, do I want the officer to have more evidence to use against me or less evidence against me?”  Naturally, most drivers prefer the “less evidence” option.

Most drivers will not avoid a DWI/DUI arrest simply by being cooperative and performing all field sobriety tests as requested by the officer.  Instead, these drivers are merely helping the officer build a case against them.  When it comes to field sobriety testing, drivers are better off saying no.  It won’t prevent an arrest, but it will prevent the officer from obtaining more evidence to use against the driver.

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