Field Sobriety Tests: Your Guide to Protecting Your Rights

Find a Lawyer Near You

Imagine you’re driving home after a fun evening with friends, and suddenly, you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror. A police officer pulls you over. Your heart races as you worry about the possible consequences, especially if you’re facing a second DUI offense in Arizona or another state with strict DUI laws.

What do you do next?  



Understanding field sobriety tests and your rights can help you navigate this stressful situation more confidently.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Police officers use field sobriety tests to determine if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests assess your physical and cognitive abilities through a series of simple tasks.

Three tests make up the standardized field sobriety test:

  1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN): The law enforcement officer moves a pen or finger back and forth in front of your eyes. They watch your eye movements for signs of nystagmus, a jerking motion that can indicate intoxication.
  2. Walk-and-Turn Test (WAT): You are asked to walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe, turn on one foot, and walk back. This test checks your balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.
  3. One-Leg Stand Test (OLS): You must stand on one leg and count aloud for about 30 seconds. This test measures your balance and focus.

Accuracy and Limitations

According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, when conducted under standardized conditions, the tests mentioned above are highly accurate and reliable in distinguishing blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) above 0.08.


PPC for Legal
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) demonstrated an accuracy of 88%.
  • Walk-and-Turn (WAT) showed a precision rate of 79%.
  • One-Leg Stand (OLS) exhibited an accuracy of 83%.

These tests are designed to be easy for sober individuals but challenging for those under the influence. Still, field sobriety tests are not foolproof. Several factors can affect your performance, even if you haven’t been drinking such as:

  • Medical conditions: Inner ear problems, neurological disorders, or physical injuries can affect your balance and coordination.
  • Nervousness: The stress of being pulled over and the presence of law enforcement can make anyone anxious, affecting your ability to perform the tests.
  • Environmental Factors: Uneven road surfaces, poor lighting, and weather conditions like rain or snow can impact your performance.

The Importance of Knowing Your Rights

Understanding your rights during a DUI stop is crucial. It can make the difference between a quick release and an arrest. Here are some key rights to keep in mind during a DUI stop:

You Can Refuse the Tests

In many states, you have the right to refuse field sobriety tests. However, this refusal may lead to other consequences, such as an immediate DUI arrest or license suspension. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the specific laws in your state regarding test refusal.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You are not required to answer questions beyond providing your identification and vehicle documents. Politely inform law enforcement that you choose to remain silent. Avoid giving any additional information that could be used against you.


Computer Forensics

You Have the Right to Request for a Lawyer

If you are arrested, you have the right to ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not answer any questions or make any statements until your lawyer is present.

How to Handle a DUI Stop

Knowing how to handle a DUI stop, from interacting with law enforcement officers to knowing when to exercise your rights, can help you protect yourself legally and minimize potential consequences.

  1. Stay Calm and Polite: It’s natural to feel nervous, but try to stay calm and collected. Being respectful and cooperative without admitting guilt can help the situation.
  2. Provide Basic Information: Offer your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance when asked. Do not offer more information than necessary.
  3. Be Mindful of Your Words and Actions: Everything you say and do can be used as evidence. Avoid making any statements about your activities or how much you’ve had to drink.

Potential Consequences of Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

Refusing to take field sobriety tests can have both immediate and long-term consequences. While refusal may prevent the officer from gathering evidence of your impairment, it can also lead to:

  1. License Suspension: In many states, refusing a field sobriety test results in the automatic suspension of your driving privileges, often for a period longer than if you had taken the test and failed.
  2. Immediate Arrest: Refusal can be seen as a sign of guilt, leading to an immediate DUI arrest. The officer may still have other evidence, such as your driving behavior or the smell of alcohol.
  3. Legal Consequences: Your refusal can be used against you in court. Prosecutors might argue that you refused the tests because you knew you were impaired.

What to Do If You Are Arrested for DUI

Being arrested for drunk driving can be a very stressful and overwhelming experience, but knowing what steps to take can help protect your rights and navigate the legal process.

  1. Contact a DUI Lawyer: As soon as possible, reach out to a lawyer who specializes in DUI cases. They can help you understand the charges and plan your defense.
  2. Review the Evidence: Your lawyer reviews all evidence, including the police report, video footage, and test results. They will look for mistakes or inconsistencies that could weaken the prosecution’s case.
  3. Challenge the Tests: Your lawyer might argue that the field sobriety tests were unfair or improperly administered. They may bring up any medical conditions, environmental factors, or other issues that could have affected your performance.

Defending Your Rights in Court for a DUI Charge

A DUI charge can be daunting, but remember that you have the right to a strong defense. Here are key strategies that you and your DUI attorneys can use in court:

  1. Questioning the Officer’s Observations: Your lawyer can question the officer’s observations and the methods they used during the stop. They may also argue that the officer lacked probable cause to pull you over.
  2. Challenging the Test Accuracy: If you took a breathalyzer test or a blood test, your lawyer might question its accuracy. This could involve looking at maintenance records for the testing devices or the procedures used during the test.
  3. Presenting Alternative Explanations: Your lawyer can present alternative explanations for your behavior or field sobriety test results. For example, they may assert that your poor performance during field sobriety tests was due to a medical condition or environmental factors, not intoxication.

Defending your rights starts with being informed and prepared. Knowing what to expect and how to respond to a DUI stop can help you better protect yourself in a challenging situation. Remember, knowledge is your best defense.

Brian Sloan

Attorney Brian Sloan of The Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan specializes in DUI defense representation. Sloan has personally defended nearly 5,000 DUI cases over the past two decades, and is one of the most award-winning DUI Lawyers in Arizona; having won numerous awards for Top 10, Top 1%, Top 40 Under 40, and was named a SuperLawyer in DUI Defense five years in a row. Sloan was also the only DUI Defense Attorney in the United States named a Power Lawyer by USA Today in 2022. Sloan currently defends Misdemeanor DUI cases in urban Maricopa County, Arizona.

Comments 1

  1. John Keogh says:

    How many seniors or over 80 could pass a field sobriety test without alcohol. Very unfair.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts