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Why You Should Refuse a Field Sobriety Test

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Vaughan de Kirby
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Let’s face it: police officers can be intimidating, especially when you’re already nervous. We tend to think that we have to do whatever the officer tells us to do. 


Once the officer has pulled you over, suspecting that you’re driving drunk, his primary goal is to collect evidence against you. He’s not looking to see if you’re drunk; he’s looking for proof that you are drunk. And all the evidence he collects will go in the police report—a document that can have a significant impact on the outcome of both your criminal trial and your DMV hearing. One of the best ways of collecting evidence of your guilt is a field sobriety test (FST).

So, doing what the police officer asks you to do—when it’s not required by law—is often not in your best interest. And this includes a field sobriety test.

Let me be clear: you are under no legal obligation to submit to an FST.

The thing to remember about field sobriety tests is that they are practically designed to make a person appear drunk. And it’s been shown that police officers hugely overestimate subjects’ levels of intoxication based on watching them do these kinds of tests. Another thing to remember is that it’s not how you actually do on the test that counts, but how the police officer thinks you do, because that’s what goes into the report.

(For more information about the history and science behind FST, read the article “Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?”)

If you choose to refuse to submit to a FST—which is often the wisest course of action—you can simply say to the officer: “I’m sorry, officer, but I’d like to speak to an attorney first.”

All too often, by simply doing whatever the officer says, people unknowingly help collect evidence against themselves—proof for a conclusion that the officer has already made: this person is guilty of DUI.

The best way to combat the DUI Guilt Myth—according to which everyone suspected of DUI is guilty—is to know your rights. Police officers usually count on the fact that most people don’t know their rights, which makes it that much easier to get people to waive them.

You don’t need to make the police officer’s job easier.

Your greatest responsibility is to make sure that you don’t wind up being another victim of the DUI Guilt Myth.

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