In just about all DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) cases in Florida, the police officer is going to request that the driver submit to field sobriety exercises. These are very difficult coordination and balancing tests that are often given to the suspect in parking lots or on the side of the road in poor lighting. The suspect is often nervous because the police officer, who is the sole judge of the field sobriety tests, already thinks he/she is drunk or he/she probably would not have asked the driver to take the field sobriety tests in the first place. The conditions under which a DUI suspect takes the field sobriety tests are far from ideal, and some people are not good at difficult balancing and coordination tests under any circumstances.
Anyone is allowed to refuse a field sobriety test. There are no repercussions with the department of motor vehicles or the courts, such as a driver’s license suspension, for refusing a field sobriety test. There may be very good reasons to refuse a field sobriety test- any injury, poor conditions, poor lighting, fatigue, nervousness, a police officer who seems overly aggressive or just a fear of not doing well based on all of the circumstances.
However, the best reason to refuse a field sobriety test may be that the field sobriety exercises are not videotaped. When a DUI suspect performs the field sobriety tests, there is only one judge, and that is the police officer who already suspects the driver is impaired from alcohol or drugs. The police officer will prepare a report, and if he/she does not think the driver performs well, he/she will write a very incriminating report. Why should a DUI suspect trust a police officer’s completely subjective findings during a field sobriety test when that test may be a crucial part of the state’s DUI case? If the police officer does not explain the tests well, how does a DUI suspect convey that to a judge or jury? Once the case gets to trial, it is the DUI defendant’s word against the police officer’s word. Because the police officer fails to bring a video camera to the DUI investigation, the defendant may be at the mercy of a biased police officer with no way of defending him/herself during a field sobriety test other than a he said/she said contest. Because of this subjective component to a DUI case, a driver should really think twice before taking a field sobriety test that is not recorded by a video camera.
In a recent DUI case south of Jacksonville, the defendant was stopped for speeding. When the police officer spoke to the defendant, he reported a strong odor of alcohol, bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech. These happen to be the same observations that seem to appear in every DUI arrest report in every case. The police officer asked the suspect to submit to field sobriety exercises. Because the police officer had a video in his car, the driver agreed. The driver did well on the field sobriety tests, but the police officer still arrested him for DUI because the police officer already decided he was drunk.
The DUI case was ultimately dismissed. The police officer had a right to request the driver to submit to the field sobriety exams based on his purely subjective observations, but because the defendant did well on the field sobriety tests, as confirmed only on the video, the judge threw the case out because there was no probable cause to arrest the defendant for DUI at that point. If there was no video, you can be sure the police officer would have reported that the defendant did poorly on the field sobriety tests. However, because there was a video, the defendant had some objective evidence to defend himself with in court, and this was the difference between a possible DUI conviction and a DUI case being thrown out.