When you are pulled over by an officer who suspects you have had too much to drink, you may be asked to leave your vehicle so you can take a field sobriety test.
What exactly is a field sobriety test? Do you have to take it? What happens if you don’t? What happens if you do?
An FST is just one request that can be made of you if you’re pulled over, but it’s a big one. In this post, we’re going to explain what these tests are and how they are used. We’ll also share with you reasons why you should never, ever take them.
How Field Sobriety Tests Work in North Carolina
The test normally has three parts:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
This test measures involuntary eye movement called horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is present only when people are inebriated.
Walk the Line Test
The officer will ask you to take nine steps along a single line to test your coordination, then make a specific turn to walk nine steps back. Someone who has had too much to drink will normally not be coordinated enough to pass this test.
One Leg Stand Test
During this test, you must stand still on one leg while holding the other up at least six inches for a certain amount of time.
Why Shouldn’t I Take a NC Field Sobriety Test?
If you are pulled over on suspicion of DWI in North Carolina, you are not required by law to take a field sobriety test even if the police request it. A common misconception is that field sobriety tests fall under implied consent law, meaning refusal would result in a license suspension. However, implied consent only applies to chemical tests, and only then after you’ve been arrested.
That’s reason one – you don’t have to, so why do it? There are really no reasons to, because “passing” it is no guarantee that the officer will let you go.
In contrast, there are all kinds of reasons not to take it.
- For the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, your gaze is captured on a special camera, which must be correctly calibrated for accurate results. If the officer did not properly use the camera, the results could be skewed against you.
- Other conditions can impair your ability to do the other tests correctly, including weather, physical impairments, nerves, unstable footwear, lack of familiarity with the tests, and more.
- These tests are easily misread. Unlike a chemical test, where the machine determines your BAC level, field sobriety tests are judged solely by the officer. Whether you “pass” or “fail” comes down to his or her subjective opinion.
- It gives the officer more evidence to arrest you, at which point you will be required by law to take a chemical BAC test.
- If you are charged, the results will provide the prosecutor with more evidence against your in court.
In short, as any North Carolina criminal lawyer worth their salt will tell you, these tests do not set you up for success – they are designed to give police officers more evidence against you to protect their decision if they decide to make an arrest.
Now, it is possible that the officer will use your refusal as an excuse to put you under arrest. However, if they were already asking you to take the tests, this was likely going to happen either way. By refusing the tests, you prevent them from getting additional evidence to use against you and make the prosecution’s case harder.