Should You Take a Sobriety Test If You’ve Been Drinking?
If you’ve been drinking and law enforcement pulls you over, it’s essential to know your rights. In North Carolina, you have the right to refuse a sobriety test, but there are legal consequences. This article will explain when it’s best to take the test and when it’s better to refuse. Knowing your rights can help keep you out of jail!
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
Non-standardized tests for detecting alcohol consumption are often not scientifically proven methods. In fact, you may have physical ailments, an inability to follow directions well, or other medical conditions.
When a law enforcement officer relies on these tests, an excellent defense attorney can show that the test results do not mean anything conclusive about you, your driving ability, or your level of impairment.
However, almost all officers still use field sobriety tests on suspected impaired drivers. When an officer has a reasonable suspicion that you’ve been drinking, but they aren’t sure whether they want to arrest you yet, they may rely on field sobriety testing to determine your legal intoxication level.
If the officer wants to see how impaired you are, they may ask you to perform tasks to show your level of alcohol intoxication. They want to establish probable cause for impaired driving before making an arrest for alcohol impairment.
Examples of Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
An officer may use a field sobriety test to decide if they should arrest you for DWI. These tests are not required by law.
Divided attention tests require you to divide your focus so that you are performing two tasks simultaneously. Examples include finger-to-nose test and hand-pat test.
Non-standardized tests may include:
- Counting Test or Counting Backwards Test: The counting test requires you to count from a certain number up or down. Saying an incorrect number could mean the officer will want to arrest you.
- Finger Count Test: The finger count test asks you to touch a certain number of your fingers with the thumb.
- Romberg Balance Test: The Romberg Balance Test asks you to stand straight and tilt your head back, estimating the passage of 30 seconds.
- Finger to Nose Test: This test asks you to touch your nose with the index finger on each hand.
- Alphabet Test: The alphabet test asks you to recite the alphabet from a certain letter in the middle of the alphabet and stop at another certain letter. Officers do not ask people to recite the alphabet backwards.
Other sobriety tests may include saying the month or other physical and mental tasks the police officers come up with for use to find a suspect’s ability to drive well.
What Are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
There are three tests scientifically validated as standardized field sobriety tests. (1)
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
HGN is the involuntary jerking of the eyes as they gaze toward the sides. The eyes of a sober person move smoothly as they gaze toward the sides. However, when a person is impaired by certain substances, the eyes jerk as they gaze toward the sides.
When administering the HGN test, officers ask you to stand with your feet together, hands at your sides, and hold your head still. They will then ask you to follow the motion of a stimulus with your eyes only. The officer is looking for clues to indicate your impairment.
The HGN test is frequently administered and interpreted incorrectly by many police officers. It is necessary to have an attorney by your side who is familiar with the intricacies of this testing. Experienced lawyers can see if the officer in your case administered and interpreted the HGN correctly.
Walk and Turn Test
The walk and turn test first requires you to stand with your feet in a heel-to-toe position, keep your arms at your side, and listen to instructions. Then you must walk an imaginary line with nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, turn in a prescribed manner, and take nine steps back. You also must count the steps out loud and watch your feet and keep your hands by your side.
Officers administering the Walk and Turn test observe the subject’s performance for a total of eight clues:
- Cannot keep balance while listening to instructions
- Starts too soon
- Stops while walking
- Does not touch heel to toe
- Steps off the line
- Uses arms to balance
- Improper turn
- Incorrect number of steps
If an officer sees you have 2 out of the 8 signs, they may consider arresting you. However, inexperienced officers often give the instructions wrong and misinterpret what they see.
This testing may not work well due to the following:
- Uneven surface level
- Weather issues
- Your age
- Your weight
One Leg Stand Test (OLS Test)
The one-leg stand test asks you to maintain balance by putting your weight on one leg. The one leg stand test shows your balance while standing on one foot.
During the administration of this test, the officer asks you to stand with your feet together, keep your arms at your sides, and listen to instructions. You must then raise one foot six inches off the ground with both legs straight. Your raised foot should be parallel to the ground.
The officer will ask you to look at your elevated foot while counting out loud, “one thousand one,” “one thousand two,” “one thousand three,” until told to stop. This is designed to divide your attention between balancing on one foot and counting out loud. The officer will time your test for approximately thirty seconds.
The officer is looking for the following four clues during this test:
- Sways while balancing
- Uses arms to balance
- Puts foot down
Portable Breath Tests
In addition to these tests, officers may give you a breathalyzer test on the side of the road.
The only part of this test that matters in court is whether the breath samples were positive or negative for alcohol. A knowledgeable attorney can often have this evidence thrown out. However, a breathalyzer taken at the station is another matter entirely!
Should You Refuse A Standardized Field Sobriety Test?
You may decline any field sobriety tests and roadside portable breath tests (PBT) in North Carolina without penalty.
When you refuse a test, there is less evidence against you. However, the fact that you refused testing may show evidence that you were guilty.
It’s better to refuse to take tests than to fail them. You don’t want to have to explain to a court why you failed them. It’s easier to argue to the court that you refused tests because of their unreliability. You can also tell the police officer that you are declining to take the tests on the advice of a lawyer. You can also request to call an attorney before performing any tests. However, it’s almost always best to not perform the roadside tests as they are designed for someone to fail even when completely sober.
You may also decline a breathalyzer test at the police station after your arrest. However, unlike field sobriety testing, declining this type of test can result in a 12-month license suspension!
You also have the right to contact a Raleigh DWI lawyer or witness to observe the testing procedures so long as the arrival of a witness does not take longer than 30 minutes. In addition, you may seek other alcohol testing upon release from custody.
What If I Refuse the Breathalyzer At the Station?
You may refuse any form of chemical testing. However, the refusal of chemical testing after your arrest can bring an immediate revocation of your license of up to a year or possibly longer.
Even if your case does not end in a conviction for impaired or drunk driving, this license revocation is still in effect. Following six months of license suspension for refusal, you may petition the court for a limited driving privilege. Such privileges only allow driving for school, work, and rehabilitation programs.
Refusing a breathalyzer or other forms of chemical testing at the police station can also result in a DWI conviction. Courts will often interpret the refusal of a breathalyzer test as an admission on your part that you were driving under the influence.
When Should I Take a Test?
It is okay to refuse a preliminary alcohol screening test and field sobriety tests such as a one-leg stand test or the walk-a-straight line test. However, once law enforcement officers take you to the station and offer a chemical test such as a breathalyzer or blood test, deciding not to take the test can bring severe consequences.
You can always legally refuse a blood or breathalyzer test, but it may not be wise. A refused test after an arrest will result in license suspension and a likely guilty conviction for DWI.
Our Experienced DWI Attorneys Can Help
If an officer stops you for DWI in Raleigh, call (919) 457-1954 to speak with an attorney from Scharff Law Firm. We can give you legal advice and stand by your side through the entire DWI process, including defending your rights in a trial if necessary.
At Scharff Law, our extensive experience with DWI cases means we can successfully defend you against a DWI charge in North Carolina. If you’ve been arrested for a DWI, call us for a free consultation. We will review your case and help determine the best possible defenses available to you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
You have a right to an attorney who can vigorously defend you against charges and find your best-case scenario moving forward. Contact us today at Scharff Law to find out how we can help you build your best DWI defense.