Impaired Or Scared? Know Your Rights Before Taking A Field Sobriety Test

Being pulled over and accused of driving under the influence can be scary. If the police believe you are drunk or high, they can arrest you, force you to take a drug test and put you in jail until you sober up. Not only does a DUI conviction result in serious legal penalties such as jail time and heavy fines, but you will be required to surrender your license upon arrest even if you are ultimately found not guilty.

As part of the pre-arrest process, police officers often request that you perform field sobriety tests such as walking a straight line or saying the alphabet backwards. You may be tempted to comply with these requests; however you should not do so. Field sobriety tests are not official evidence of intoxication, but they can be used to incriminate you. In one accident-related NJ Field Sobriety test cited by New Jersey DWI defense attorney Evan Levow, a driver “hit a utility pole and rolled over several times, it took officers and the fire department to extract the woman from the wreckage.


The police believed they smelled alcohol coming from the driver and administered field sobriety tests. The driver refused both medical attention and a breath analysis, so she was arrested. She’s been charged with DUI, reckless driving, careless driving, refusing to provide breath samples, and obstructing the administration of law.” Considering the state a person is in after an accident – shaky, confused, and upset – it seems unreasonable to put them through a test used to measure balance and eye movement and tracking of an object when they have been through the trauma of a crash.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Not The Same As Breathalyzers

Drivers sometimes think they need to comply with a request to take a field sobriety test because they know there are penalties for refusing a blood or breathalyzer test. It’s important to know that these tests are not field sobriety tests.

Breathalyzer and blood tests provide police with scientific evidence that someone broke the law. These tests return a specific measurement; either the person’s blood alcohol level is above the legal limit or it is not. This makes them very different from field sobriety tests, which are more subjective. In addition, the law says that if you refuse a blood or breath test, you will be immediately arrested and treated as if you had failed such a test. There is no such law related to field sobriety tests. In fact, there are no penalties for refusing such a test either prior to conviction or afterwards.

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Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Submit to Field Sobriety Tests

Most of the time, police officers will only request a field sobriety test if they are fairly certain you are drunk or high. Thus, the test is a waste of time, as the officer is likely to make an arrest anyway. You should not agree to this type of test for three reasons:

  1. These tests are not scientific. The police officer has been given a list of symptoms to watch for that indicate drunkenness, but that list does not take into account whether or not you have particularly good balance or coordination. Thus, if you fail the task because of poor coordination, an officer can presume you are drunk and arrest you even if you have not touched alcohol or drugs at all.
  2. These tests are subjective; the officer needs to decide whether your performace calculates a pass or a failure. A biased officer could arrest you without cause and claim that your performance on the test was probable cause.
  3. During the test, you may accidentally say something that incriminates you. Your statement may be admissible in court (even if you were not read your rights) because you were not under arrest at the time you made it.

If a police officer stops you on suspicion of DUI, be polite but decline to answer all questions without your attorney. You should also politely decline any field sobriety tests. You should agree to a blood or breath test, as refusal to take these tests can result in serious legal problems.

Lisa Becker shares this information to empower readers not to let fear cause self incrimination. At Levow & Associates, they will inform you that if you live in NJ field sobriety testing is not mandatory and that you should politely refuse and follow up with experienced legal counsel.

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