Nothing can put a damper on a nice evening out with friends quite like having to pull over for a traffic stop when you see red and blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. The Massachusetts police officer who approaches your driver's side window may already suspect you of a crime by the time he or she speaks to you.
If one of the first questions is a request for you to step out of your vehicle, you can bet your bottom dollar that the officer thinks you are on drugs or alcohol. While it's always best to be polite and to cooperate as much as possible, you have rights in such situations, and the more you know about those rights ahead of time, the likelier you'll be able to mitigate your circumstances.
You don't have to submit to a walk-and-turn test
Many Massachusetts drivers think that, when a police officer asks them to do something during a traffic stop, they must do it or face arrest. This is simply not always the case. There is no legal penalty or administrative repercussions for not taking a field sobriety test. The most common test is the walk-and-turn. It is only 66% accurate.
If you take a walk-and-turn test and the officer issues a failing grade, you'll likely wind up in handcuffs and riding in the back seat of a police car. Failing a field sobriety test may be probable cause to arrest you for suspected drunk driving.
How does the test work?
You might think it's better to comply with the officer's request to take a field test than to refuse and risk making him or her angry. While there's no legal obligation to take the test, most people do not want to further irritate a police officer who is already trying to find a reason to arrest them. The walk-and-turn test is a gauge police use to observe your ability to follow a series of instructions and to balance while walking in a specific manner.
The test typically involves stretching your arms out at shoulder length. The officer will then tell you to walk a straight line with the heel of one foot meeting the toes of the other with every step. You may also have to turn around and repeat the test in the opposite direction.
Inaccuracy and personal interpretations
While there may be guidelines regarding the type of behavior police should look for to determine if they have probable cause to make a drunk driving arrest, every officer's personal opinion enters into the equation at some point. No two people interpret what they see in exactly the same way. The bottom line, however, is that you may face arrest if the cop observing your walk-and-turn test thinks you have performed poorly.
If you are a clumsy person, you might have great difficulty walking a straight line with arms outstretched. Also, if you had a past injury, it might affect your ability to balance. Then again, you might just be feeling really nervous because you know a police officer is watching you. Any number of issues can cause you to fail the test, even if you are sober.
Protecting your rights
You don't have to answer questions other than those regarding your identity or vehicle information. You may request legal representation at any time. If you believe a police officer has violated your personal rights during a traffic stop or following an arrest, you can determine a best course of action to address the matter in court.