Can I refuse a field sobriety test?

On Behalf of | Jan 28, 2022 | DUI/OUI |

Traffic stops are stressful experiences that virtually no drivers in Massachusetts enjoy. While some traffic stops end without any issues or with only minor infractions, others lead to arrest. Anyone accused of driving drunk during a stop may be familiar with field sobriety tests, too. 

These tests are often to justify DUI arrests. They can also play a key role in convictions, too. However, police officers are only human, and they may misinterpret a driver’s performance during these tests. Those who have a better understanding of field sobriety tests may be well poised to challenge an arresting officer’s interpretation. 

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test 

The field sobriety test that most people are familiar with is the one endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the Standardized Field Sobriety Test — SFST. The SFST consists of three separate tasks intended to measure a driver’s sobriety. These three tests are: 

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN. During this test, an officer measures the involuntary jerking in a driver’s eye. 
  • The walk-and-turn, or WAT. This measures a driver’s ability to complete multiple tasks with divided attention. 
  • The on-leg stand, or OLS. An officer will look at a driver’s ability to balance, specifically without swaying too much or putting a foot down. 

How you perform on these tasks determines whether an officer decides to move forward with further testing. In general, the next step is to determine blood alcohol content — BAC. This may occur during a Breathalyzer test or with a blood draw. In some situations, an officer might make an arrest without immediately securing a BAC. 

Additional field sobriety tests 

Officers sometimes use non-standardized field sobriety tests, too. For example, an officer might ask you to stand with your feet together and then tip your head backward. Reciting the alphabet backward, counting an officer’s raised fingers and touching your nose while your eyes are closed are common non-standardized tests. 

How an officer interprets your performance on a field sobriety test might have played a critical role in your arrest. Since police officers are only human, it is understandable that you might question whether that interpretation was correct. Having a more thorough understanding of Massachusetts criminal law can be crucial to this understanding as well as minimizing potential legal consequences associated with your charges.