Field-Sobriety Tests: What You Need to Know About Your Rights

Law Blog

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.1 million drivers were arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol in 2014. If you're ever inebriated and get behind the wheel, it is important that you understand your rights if you are pulled over by a police officer. Depending on the state and available equipment, the police officer will administer a number of field-sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer test. Before you agree to or deny any of these tests, it is important to understand your rights. Here is some valuable information about your rights concerning field-sobriety tests.

How Does a Breathalyzer Test Work?

Because blood alcohol rates drop at a very fast rate, police officers need a quick, portable way to test a driver's blood alcohol level. The breathalyzer test is one of the most commonly used field-sobriety tests, and the device has evolved since it was first invented by Dr. Robert Borkstein in 1954.

There are several different varieties of breathalyzers available to law-enforcement officers. However, one of the most commonly used actually tests the amount of alcohol present in your breath. As the alcohol in your blood passes through your lungs, traces of it are left behind. When you breathe into the device, the alcohol in your breath is converted to acetic acid.

When the water vapor in your breath, air, and acetic acid mix, the mixture creates an electrical charge. It's this charge that is measured by the breathalyzer.

Can I Refuse a Field-Sobriety Test?

Whether you are asked to blow into a breathalyzer, stand on one foot and touch your nose, or take any one of a number of field-sobriety tests, it is important to realize that you can refuse to take all of these tests, even if the officer tells you they are necessary.

However, it is important to note that if you decide to refuse the breathalyzer or any of the other field-sobriety tests, you are leaving yourself open to other forms of punishment, depending on where you live. For example, if you live in a state with implied-consent laws, refusing any field-sobriety tests will result in an automatic suspension of your license. The theory behind implied-consent laws is that because you have a state-issued license, you agree to follow the rules of the road.

Driving while intoxicated or refusing a breathalyzer and other field-sobriety tests places you in violation of these implied laws. This will result in an automatic suspension of your license. In some other states, your refusal to take a field-sobriety test can even result in stiffer penalties. For example, you may be charged for refusing to submit a sample to be tested by the breathalyzer.

If you have questions about the implied-consent laws and the laws concerning refusing field-sobriety tests, consult an attorney in your state.

What Do I Need to Know About No-Refusal DUI Laws?

In addition to implied-consent laws and laws concerning the refusal of field-sobriety tests, many states are also adopting no-refusal DUI laws. Under these laws, police officers can obtain a warrant that can compel the driver to take a breathalyzer test on the spot. In the past, it could take several hours or even days for an officer to obtain a warrant to collect evidence. However, with the advent of new technologies, including smart phones, officers can now obtain a warrant within a matter of minutes.

Even if the officer obtains a warrant, you can still refuse the field-sobriety tests. Be aware that if you do refuse to honor the warrant, you could face even stiffer penalties, including contempt charges, which could be more serious than DUI charges.

Once again, it is important to speak with an attorney and ask them about no-refusal DUI laws in your state.

If you are ever pulled over, and the officer suspects you have been drinking, you may be asked to perform any number of field-sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer test. Refusing these tests is sometimes the best option, but this can also lead to stiffer penalties down the road, depending on where you live. If you have any questions about your state's drunk-driving laws, or if you have recently been pulled over while driving under the influence, don't hesitate to contact an attorney. 

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10 October 2016

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