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Field sobriety tests: Are you legally obligated to take one?

If you're driving home and a Florida police officer pulls you over, you must stop. When the officer approaches your driver's side window, you should roll it down so he or she can speak to you. If the officer asks to see your driver's license and vehicle registration information, you must comply. If you don't have one or the other, you can bet that your situation is about to get a lot more complicated.

In certain circumstances, a traffic patrol officer might ask you to step out of your vehicle. This type of request usually means that he or she suspects you of a crime, like drunk driving. You can be sure that is the case if the next question is a request for you to take a field sobriety test. It's critical that you know your rights and how to protect them.

Basic facts you should know about field sobriety tests

Police in Florida and most other states typically use three types of tests to determine if they have probable cause to arrest someone for suspected drunk driving. The following list provides information about these tests and what your rights are regarding a police officer's request for you to take one:

  • Police use the horizontal gaze nystagmus test to observe the movement of your eyes as you track an object up and down or left to right without using your head. The eyes of an intoxicated person will often jerk erratically before reaching their maximum peripheral point of vision.
  • The test with which most people are familiar is the walk-and-turn test. Not only must you be able to remember and follow a series of instructions, but you must also have good balance and agility because the test requires you to walk a straight line with arms outstretched at shoulder length while placing the heel of one foot at the toes of the other with every step.
  • Balance is also a key factor in the one-leg stance test. However, if you raise your arms or waiver at all while standing on one leg, you might get a failing grade.
  • Not only do you have to stand on one leg in the test mentioned in the previous section, you may also have to look up toward the sky and count aloud by 1000s while you do it.
  • If anyone tells you that you can be arrested for not taking a field sobriety test, it is not true. The test is to determine if there is probable cause for an arrest and nothing more.
  • There are no legal or administrative penalties for refusing to take a field sobriety test.

Most Florida motorists think it's better to comply than refuse, however. This is because prosecutors know how to use the fact that you refused against you in court if you would later face drunk driving charges in connection with that particular traffic stop.

Exercise and protect your rights

Beyond your basic personal and vehicle identification information, you do not have to answer any questions without the benefit of legal representation. You may invoke your rights under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent. With regard to field sobriety tests or any other issues in conjunction with a drunk driving arrest, you can seek guidance and support to help you build a strong defense and fight the charges in court.

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