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Field Sobriety Tests: Just Say No!

Although most Arizona motorists are vaguely familiar with field sobriety tests, many people are unsure what to do if a law enforcement officer requests that a driver participate in these physical and mental exercises.  Many people who are intimidated by police officers and unsure of their legal rights consent to participate in these exercises.  These “divided attention tests” are little more than coordination tests, and they are fairly unreliable.  The function of these tests is to provide probable cause for a DUI arrest.  Experienced Arizona DUI defense attorney Mathew Lopez recognizes that many people have limited knowledge of their rights and options when participation in field sobriety tests is requested.  As a general rule, our Tempe DUI law firm generally advises clients to “just say no” to field sobriety tests.

Main Forms of Sobriety Tests in Arizona

There are only three forms of field sobriety tests (FSTs) that have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as having any reliability in identifying alcohol impaired drivers: (1) the walk-and-turn; (2) one-leg stand; and (3) horizontal gaze nystagmus.  If you are asked to perform FSTs other than these three “standardized field sobriety tests” (SFSTs), other tests have no influence on a DUI case because of their lack of reliability.  Many people are surprised to learn that even the SFSTs have fairly high false positive error rates.

This lack of accuracy is related to the fact that the tests must be administered and evaluated according to strict procedures to achieve any kind of reliable result.  Many police officers lack the proper training to administer and score the tests properly.  Further, there are many reasons that people fail these tests that have nothing to do with intoxication.  The physical coordination required to pass the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand makes these tasks difficult even if you are stone cold sober.  When the surrounding conditions are not optimal, the chance of failing when you have had nothing to drink is relatively high.  Factors that may adversely impact your performance include:

  • Tests conducted on uneven surfaces
  • Darkness
  • Stress from confrontation with police officer
  • The pressure of a possible arrest based on results
  • Illness or injury of motorists
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Proximity to traffic
  • Natural lack of coordination

What many people do not realize is that they have no legal obligation to participate in SFSTs.  The lack of reliability of these exercises means that there is little to be gained by participating in SFSTs.  Even if you are not intoxicated, the chance that you will perform well enough to go home is not very high.  Further, any poor performance will be used against you by the prosecutor if you are involved in a DUI trial.  Since the primary function of these tests is to provide a legal basis for a DUI arrest and evidence for a DUI conviction, motorists gain little by agreeing to perform these exercises.

Saying No is Completely Legal

Since many drivers do not understand their right to “just say no” to SFSTs, they consent to participate.  Predictably, motorists fail these tests almost universally because the officer has already made up his mind before asking a driver to submit to this form of alcohol screening.  Fortunately, the lack of reliability and many alternative reasons for failing can be used to your advantage if you consent to perform field sobriety tests.

Contact an DUI Defense Attorney Today

If you or a family member has been arrested for DUI, we will provide a tenacious defense to protect your liberty, reputation, bank account and driver’s license.  Mathew Lopez Law, PLLC represents those arrested or charged with alcohol related driving offenses in Tempe and throughout Arizona, including Lake Havasu.  We offer free consultations, so we can advise you of your rights and potential defense strategies.  Call experienced Tempe DUI defense lawyer Matthew Lopez today at 602-960-1731 or complete a case inquiry form.