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DUIs and field sobriety tests: Part 1

There are many situations Florida motorists may encounter that impact their safety on the road, such as intoxicated and distracted drivers. To increase public safety, jurisdictions all across the country are cracking down on drunk drivers. Identifying potentially drunken motorists is not easy. Field sobriety tests enable police to know which motorists to arrest and charge with a DUI.

There is a common belief that motorists must perform field sobriety testing when asked by law enforcement. There are circumstances where it may be more beneficial for drivers to decline them. To better understand your rights as a motorist, consider the following information about refusing field sobriety testing:

What is the field sobriety test?

There are three components to field sobriety testing: the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus and one-leg stand. The test lets officers tell when motorists are potentially drunk or under the influence of a substance. The average person can pass these tests with little effort. However, drivers who have consumed alcohol or used drugs that cause impairment before driving usually fail them.

What happens if I fail the test?

Failing a field sobriety test does not always equate to intoxication. Medical conditions, fatigue, uneven/broken sidewalks, poor lighting and other factors often lead to dismal test results. Officers do not always know if impairment results from alcohol, an illegal drug, medication or a combination of the three. Motorists who end up with DUIs for the first time risk a misdemeanor on their criminal records. Repeat offenders are in danger of felony DUI convictions.

Can drivers say no to field sobriety testing?

Motorists in the state of Florida do not have an obligation to submit to field sobriety testing; law enforcement needs probable cause before they can charge anyone with a DUI. Without evidence from field sobriety testing, officers can request motorists to blow into a breathalyzer device to measure their blood alcohol content (BAC).

If a police officer pulls you over for suspicion of impairment, you have the option to perform or decline field sobriety tests, unless there is a warrant. Refusing is not always a good way to avoid a DUI charge. If there is enough evidence to support the charge without the results of field sobriety testing, you could end up with a much stiffer charge and penalties that include the loss of driving privileges, fines, jail time and the use of an interlock ignition device.


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