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After a Traffic Stop by Police, Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

The field sobriety test during an investigation by police for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) consists of a few tests administered by the police officer, like the horizontal gaze test, standing on one leg, walking in a straight line and turning around and reciting the alphabet. A police officer often will ask a driver to submit to a field sobriety test if he/she thinks the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A typical traffic stop that turns into a DUI investigation might go something like this. A police officer will observe a driver violate a traffic law such as failing to maintain one’s lane, rolling through a stop sign or speeding. The police officer will then pull the driver over, approach the driver and ask a few questions. If the police officer observes what he/she subjectively considers evidence of intoxication, the police officer may ask some questions pertinent to a DUI investigation such as whether or not the driver has been drinking or using drugs and if so, to what extent. The police officer may then ask the driver to submit to a field sobriety test.

A driver in Florida is not required to submit to a field sobriety test. If a driver does submit to a field sobriety test, there is no objective criteria that measures whether or not the driver passes or fails. It is up to the discretion of the police officer. There are several reasons why a completely sober person might fail a field sobriety test depending on his/her age, level of coordination, physical condition, nervousness and many other actors. Anyone who feels like he/she has one of these conditions that would affect the results of a field sobriety test should seriously consider refusing the test. If the driver submits to a field sobriety test and the police officer determines that he/she fails, the officer will testify as to his/her version of what happened during the test and his/her interpretation of the results. Of course, a refusal to submit to a field sobriety test can be used against a driver at a DUI trial, but there may certainly be valid reasons for the refusal completely unrelated to alcohol or drug use.

At a DUI stop in Florida, it is important to understand that the field sobriety test requested by the police officer is designed to obtain subjective evidence of impairment that can be used against the driver in court. Every driver in Florida has a right to refuse the field sobriety test. However, this should not be confused with the blood or breath alcohol test, a refusal to which subjects a person to an automatic license suspension of one year for a first refusal and 18 months for a subsequent refusal.