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Can I Legally Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

Being pulled over because a police officer suspects that you are driving drunk or driving while using drugs can be scary. If you had a couple of drinks over dinner with friends but you are unsure whether your blood alcohol level is over the limit, being pulled over on this suspicion can go from a nuisance to a potentially life changing moment. There is a good chance that a police officer will ask you to perform a field sobriety test or take a breathalyzer test in this sort of situation. If that happens, you have rights, and knowing what rights you have can be helpful in determining the outcome of your traffic stop.

What is a Field Sobriety Test?

Field sobriety tests are a collection of tests used by members of law enforcement to determine whether someone is intoxicated or otherwise impaired. Officers are trained in administering these tests and will do so at traffic stops if they suspect someone is driving while under the influence. Here are some examples of frequently used field sobriety tests:

  • Walk & Turn: This test is administered to determine someone’s ability to follow directions, maintain their balance for a certain amount of time, and walk in a straight line. The officer will ask the driver to walk in a straight line, taking heel to toe steps. The officer will direct the driver to keep their arms at their sides and will look for an inability to maintain balance or follow directions.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: This test is administered by a law enforcement officer as a means to examine someone’s eyes. The word nystagmus refers to involuntary jerking motions of the eye, and people who display these movements are generally intoxicated or otherwise impaired. It is a good test to determine if someone is intoxicated because nystagmus does not impact vision, so people don’t realize they are doing it.
  • One Leg Turn Test: The one leg turn test consists of standing with one foot lifted about six inches from the ground while counting out loud. This test usually goes on for about 30 seconds, and the testing officer will be looking for issues with balancing, needing to use arms to balance, hopping, and inability to keep the foot raised above the ground.

If an officer suspects that a driver has been drinking alcohol, they are likely to ask them to submit to a breathalyzer test. This test measures the blood alcohol content in someone’s blood through their breath. In the state of Wisconsin, the legal blood alcohol content someone can have and still legally operate a vehicle is 0.08%. If someone is driving and blows a higher number on a breathalyzer test than the legal limit, there is a very good chance they will be arrested.

How Accurate Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Ultimately, there is no test administered “on the field” that is 100% accurate in determining whether someone is intoxicated. All these tests are susceptible to different variables that can affect their accuracy. Many people have been perfectly sober but have “failed” field sobriety tests due to many different reasons, from physical ability to nerves.

Can I Say No to a Field Sobriety Test?

Ultimately, the evidence police gain from subjecting drivers to field sobriety tests depends on the driver aiding in its creation. In Wisconsin, you can legally refuse field sobriety tests. Due to the subjective nature of the results that come of these tests as well as how inaccurate the results can be, someone may worsen their case by agreeing to them. The tests are not scientifically measured, and therefore the risk of false positives is high.

What Can I Expect if I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

While someone can legally refuse to participate in a field sobriety test, that does not mean that the officer that pulled them over will let them move on. If they refuse to participate in the tests, it is very likely they will be taken into custody for blood testing to determine if they are intoxicated. Knowing this should not necessarily stop someone from refusing the sobriety tests, because by the time their blood is tested, there is a chance their blood alcohol levels could be lower.

Can I Refuse a Breathalyzer Test, Too?

Technically, the answer to this question is yes. While someone can refuse to participate in a breathalyzer test, this will result in further charges against them because of Wisconsin’s implied consent law. The implied consent law requires all drivers to submit to blood, urine, and/or breath testing if they are suspected of driving while under the influence.

What Are the Consequences of Refusing a Chemical Drug Test?

If someone refuses to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test during a traffic stop where an officer believes they are under the influence, they will be subject to further consequences. One consequence is that the officer can get a warrant to take a forced sample of their blood once they’re in custody. Some of the other consequences include but are not limited to:

  • Having their driver’s license revoked for 1 full year
  • Having an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle for 1 full year
  • Having to wait 30 days to apply for an occupational license

It is worth noting that all these consequences are doubled if there is a child under the age of 16 as a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the traffic stop. These consequences also increase for every offense. For example, on the second offense, driver’s license revocation lasts for 2 years. On the third offense, it lasts for 3 years. The state of Wisconsin takes driving while intoxicated very seriously and often enacts the laws at their disposal for such cases to their full extent.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been arrested under the suspicion of driving while intoxicated and need advice about what comes next, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today. With over 20 years of experience litigating criminal cases, Attorney Cherella understands that there is a person behind every case and works each case with compassion and attention to detail. He keeps a small client base to provide high quality legal services to all his clients and is highly familiar with the criminal process at both the state and federal level. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or via his contact page.