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Detroit Legal Blog

Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

Oct 27, 2017, by Maurice Davis in Legal Blog, OWI

A field sobriety test (FST) is a cognitive and physical task the police use to gather evidence of inebriation during a traffic stop. An officer may ask you to perform between one and three FSTs if they suspect you of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. During an FST, an officer will ask you to perform a physical activity. Your ability to fully carry out this activity in a specific way signals your sobriety. However, if you experience certain difficulties during each test, this may signal intoxication.

What you really need to know about FSTs is that you are not legally required to take them. When an officer in Michigan asks you to perform one of these tasks, you can politely refuse. In most cases, this will not stop an officer from arresting you for a DUI. However, once you contact our experienced DUI defense lawyers at Davis Law Group, you will be able to tell us that you limited the evidence against you.

If you were unaware of your rights and took one or more FSTs during a traffic stop, there is still plenty we can do. Call us today at (313) 818-3238 to find out more about defending against drunk driving accusations.

The Three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are only three FSTs that have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • The one-leg stand test: An officer will ask you to stand on one foot while the other is held six inches off the ground. You will then be asked to count aloud until they tell you to put your foot down. The officer is looking to see if you sway, use your arms for balance, hop, and/or put your foot down.
  • The walk-and-turn test: An officer will ask you to take nine steps forward in a straight line, touching your heel to your toe each step. After the nine steps, you will be asked to turn using small steps and return in the same way. The officer will note whether you keep your balance while listening to the instructions, begin before the instructions are over, stop walking to regain your balance, touch your heel to your toe, use your arms, step out of line, take the wrong number of steps, and/or improperly turn.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: HGN is an involuntary jerking eye movement when you look to the side. You cannot consciously control it. When you are sober, HGN usually only occurs when you are looking at an extreme angle to the side. When you are intoxicated, HGN occurs at lesser angles and can be seen when you try to track an object. To look for HGN, an officer will ask you to look at an object and follow its movement with your eyes while your head remains still. The officer is looking for whether your eye can follow the object smoothly, if the jerking is distinct and sustained when the eye is at its maximum angle, and/or if the angle at which jerking starts is before 45 degrees from center.

An officer who suspects you of a DUI should ask you to perform these standardized FSTs. While an officer could ask you to perform some other physical test, it may not be accurate or valid evidence of inebriation. Under Michigan law, non-standardized FSTs can be admitted into evidence as long as they comply with the Michigan Rules of Evidence. If you were asked to perform a non-standardized test, our defense attorneys at Davis Law Group will aggressively fight to have this evidence ruled inadmissible.

Why FSTs are Inaccurate

Research conducted decades ago found that these standardized FSTs were relatively accurate. However, both additional studies and experience have uncovered that these tests can be highly unreliable and inaccurate.

One reason these tests lead to false positives is because they are not always properly administered by the police. If the tests are conducted by an officer who is not properly trained, or someone who simply does not comply with the NHTSA’s directions, then the results are not reliable. Certain medical conditions and medications can make it difficult for you to perform these tests. For example, a number of conditions impair your balance, which is a central focus of two of the three standardized FSTs. Additionally, your clothing, footwear, the weather, and the terrain on which you perform the tests can all impact the results.

Your Options During a DUI Stop

When you are pulled over by the police under suspicion of a DUI, you can expect to be asked to step out of the vehicle. An officer may then ask you to perform these or other physical tasks. Oftentimes the officer will not explicitly say that it is a FST, and that it will be graded. They simply assume you will follow their instructions. However, you are not required to. If an officer asks you to perform a physical task, you have the right to politely decline.

Let Our DUI Defense Lawyers Help You

Whether you refused to submit to any FSTs or you performed one or more of these tasks, you will need an aggressive and trusted DUI attorney to help you through this process. Contact Davis Law Group right away to learn about your rights and responsibilities during a DUI case, and how you can best defend yourself.

Contact us online, or call (313) 818-3238 to schedule your initial consultation.