Criminal Defense LawyerLakeland, Tampa, FL

Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory in Florida?

Unhappy motorist forced to take a field sobriety test by an angry police officer.

In short, no — but you could still be charged with DUI.

Law enforcement officers in Florida use different types of evidence in DUI cases. These include field sobriety tests (FSTs), which are designed to assess balance, coordination, eye tracking, and ability to follow instructions – all of which can be impaired by alcohol and drugs.

However, there are problems with using these tests as evidence of driving under the influence. First, FSTs need to be administered properly. Second, they are subjective assessments that are susceptible to human error and bias. Also, factors such as weather conditions, lighting, or a driver’s physical or mental state can affect performance on the tests.

So, if you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, and a police officer asks you to take a field sobriety test, do you have to take it? The answer is no.

What are field sobriety tests (FSTs)?

There are three standardized tests used by law enforcement.

The Walk-and-Turn (WAT)

The driver is instructed to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn around as instructed, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back along the same line. People taking the test must maintain a heel-to-toe stance, keep their arms at their sides, and count each step out loud. The officer looks for signs of impairment, such as swaying, using arms for balance, stepping off the line, or incorrect counting.

The One-Leg Stand (OLS)

The driver is instructed to stand on one leg while raising the other leg approximately six inches off the ground and counting out loud for a specified amount of time (usually around 30 seconds). People taking the test must maintain their balance without swaying, hopping, using arms for support, or putting their raised foot down before being instructed to do so. The officer looks for signs of impairment, such as difficulty maintaining balance, swaying, or using arms for support.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

The officer observes the driver’s eyes as they track a stimulus, typically a pen or flashlight moved horizontally in front of their face. The officer looks for involuntary jerking or bouncing movements of the eyes, known as nystagmus, which can be exaggerated when a person is impaired. The person taking the test must keep their head still and follow the stimulus with their eyes only, without moving their head. The officer looks for the presence of nystagmus at maximum deviation, the onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees, and the lack of smooth pursuit.

What happens if I take a field sobriety test?

If you take the field sobriety tests, the officer will suspect impairment if you do not perform well. The officer may ask you to take a breath or blood test to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). These tests provide more objective evidence of impairment. If your BAC is above the legal limit, you will be arrested and charged with DUI. Your performance in the field sobriety tests can be used as evidence against you.

What happens if I refuse to take a field sobriety test?

In Florida, there are no legal consequences for refusing to take field sobriety tests when asked. If you refuse to take them, an officer can’t use your performance on the tests as a basis for requesting a breath or blood test. There are other indicators that officers use to determine reasonable suspicion of DUI. But refusing FSTs means that they can’t be used as evidence.

How do I refuse to take field sobriety tests?

If a law enforcement officer asks you to take these tests, politely decline. While you do have the right to refuse to take the tests, it’s also important to remain respectful and cooperative. For example, you could say, “I understand that I am not required to take these tests, and I choose not to take them.” Do not argue or resist.

If you are charged with DUI, call an experienced lawyer.

If you have been arrested for drunk driving, you may be facing fines, license suspension or revocation, mandatory alcohol education or treatment programs, probation, community service, and possibly even jail time.

That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced DUI defense attorney. Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law, has been fighting for the rights of Floridians in Lakeland and throughout Polk County for more than 25 years. He knows how to challenge evidence, such as field sobriety tests, and is committed to helping you get the best possible outcome.

If you’ve been arrested for DUI, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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