New York Civil Rights & Criminal Defense Lawyers

4 reasons to refuse a field sobriety test

A police officer must have a good reason to pull you over. Perhaps you made an illegal turn, you drove through a stop sign or your car’s headlight is out. In any of these cases, the officer will likely check your driver’s license and registration, give you a citation or a warning, and let you go on your way.

On the other hand, if the police officer asks if you have been drinking, you have every reason to be concerned. Police do not usually ask this question unless they already suspect that you are impaired, and they may be looking for probable cause to arrest you. That probable cause often comes in the form of a failed field sobriety test.

Test results you cannot trust

Officers may ask you to step out of your vehicle and voluntarily participate in a series of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. These tests include the walk-and-turn, the horizontal gaze nystagmus and the one-leg stand. It is important to understand that the officer’s request is a request and not a command even if the officer makes it sound as if you have no choice.

However, you do have a choice. In fact, many civil rights advocates recommend that drivers never agree to participating in field sobriety tests for the following reasons:

  • The tests are subjective. Studies show that a test you pass for one officer may be a failing score for another.
  • The conditions are uncontrollable, including your level of anxiety, traffic conditions, noise and uneven terrain, which can all affect the outcome of the test.
  • Countless medical issues and physical conditions may affect your balance and coordination, cause you to slur your speech, or even exaggerate the natural movements of your eyes.
  • An officer who is zealous about arresting drunk drivers may already believe you are impaired and base your test score on this belief, not your actual performance

Like many in New York, you may think you can simply prove your sobriety by complying with the roadside tests. Unfortunately, officers wrongly arrest more than 30% of sober drivers who get out of their vehicles and take the tests. Even if later blood or breath tests show your blood alcohol concentration below the legal limit, you may still have a DUI arrest on your record. New York law allows you to politely refuse to submit to any field sobriety tests.




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