Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?


A field sobriety test is something routinely used by police officers to ascertain whether or not a person is driving under the influence. These tests are meant to measure your judgment, balance and reflexes in general. The philosophy behind field tests is that alcohol or intoxicating drugs impair your judgment. This is reflected in slow, irregular and inaccurate physical reactions to specific situations. The tests judge you by putting you in such situations and letting law enforcement officers watch your reactions.

The Idaho Code Section 18-8002 deals with the legalities of field sobriety tests in detail. As per this section, you can refuse a field sobriety test but you will have to face certain consequences. Before we look at these consequences, here’s a quick lowdown on the facts of these tests.

What Are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines three distinct types of field sobriety tests. Each test measures a different aspect of your sobriety. The three tests include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: Nystagmus is defined as the ‘rapid and involuntary movement of the eyes.’ In our daily lives, our gaze smoothly transitions from one object to another. A jerky movement is very rare. In this test, you are asked to gaze at a stimulus that moves from side to side. A police officer observes your eye movement and determines if it is jerky or smooth. If your eye movement is jerky, the officer may take it a sign of impairment caused by alcohol or drugs.

Walk And Turn Test: This is one of the trickier field sobriety tests. In this test, you are asked to take nine steps along a straight line. You must take these steps so that the toe of one foot is touching the heel of the other. In this fashion, you must take nine toe-to-heel steps forwards and then back. You may be required to count each step out loud. An officer may note various tell-tale signs during a Walk and Turn Test. If you start too soon, count incorrectly, fail to observe instructions or are unable to follow a straight line, the officer may consider this a form of impairment.

One-Leg Stand Test: This is a simple sobriety test. You are asked to stand with one foot nearly six inches off the ground. With the foot off the ground, you are required to count from 1,000 onwards for nearly 30 seconds. If you use your arms to balance yourself or are unable to maintain one foot in the air, this may be construed as alcohol or drug-induced impairment.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory?

Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in the strictest sense of the word. No law obligates a driver to comply with an officer’s request to perform these tests. This means that you have the option to refuse to take part in these tests without directly violating any specific legal requirement. However, this refusal comes with its own set of consequences that must be carefully considered.

Constitutional Right vs Constitutional Duty

So can you refuse a field sobriety test? You don’t have a constitutional right that says you can refuse these tests. However, at the same time, you don’t have a constitutional or legal duty to take these tests. To put it in simple words, refusing field sobriety tests is constitutional, but the state may decide to penalize you for it. Additionally, you may be required to perform a number of tests, such as a chemical test and blood test, to determine your BAC if the officer arrests you on the belief that you are driving under the influence.

Why Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

There are a number of reasons why you should refuse field sobriety tests. Typically, a police officer has already formed a judgment about your impairment or intoxication when you are stopped for DUI. The field sobriety tests are then simply used by an officer to establish evidence. If you take the tests, you are almost certainly going to be deemed ‘impaired’ by the officer. This adds evidence to your DUI conviction.

If you refuse to take the tests, the officer will then likely ask you to take a breathalyzer test. This is a more reliable form of evidence. If you blow the stipulated BAC levels, you will then be convicted for DUI. The only evidence against you in the court would be the result from the breathalyzer.

On the other hand, if you take a field sobriety test, you will very likely fail. The officer will then perform a breathalyzer test and check your BAC levels. If you fail both the BAC assessment and the field tests, this piles up the evidence against you.

However, if you have had absolutely nothing to drink, you can go ahead and take a field sobriety test. Even if you fail the test, your BAC results will show that you are not intoxicated. In such a case, failing the field test will amount to nothing.

How Can a Boise DUI Attorney Help You?

Many DUI convictions are based on evidence from field sobriety tests. In many cases, an officer uses subjective judgment to determine whether you pass or fail the tests. The officer is required to follow specific instructions when asking you to perform these tests. If you think you have been unfairly convicted, you should hire a Boise DUI attorney at the earliest.

Here at Boise DUI Guy, we help you fight a DUI conviction. We cross-examine the results and facts of the field sobriety test as well as your BAC results. Our Boise DUI lawyers then see if any legal lapses have been committed by the police officer. At the end of the day, our aim is to have the DUI charge against you scrapped altogether or reduced to a minimum and fair penalty. Contact us today to discuss your DUI case and let out competent lawyers help you.