Pros and Cons of Field Sobriety Tests in Florida
Field sobriety tests, or FSTs, are a series of physical tests police use to determine whether or not drivers are impaired after an accident or during a traffic stop. These exercises include the Walk-and-Turn, One-Leg Stand, and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test.
It’s important to know that Florida law enforcement officers do not have the right to force drivers to perform FST exercises. Unfortunately, police officers are also not required to tell drivers that the exercises are optional and might even imply that drivers don't have a choice. It falls on you to know your rights and choose between complying or refusing the officer’s request.
What if I Perform a Field Sobriety Test?
Police officers are prohibited from performing illegal searches of people and their property. If they don’t have a reasonable suspicion to perform every step of a DUI arrest, the evidence they gather against you could be deemed invalid. For example, they need a good reason to stop the vehicle (such as seeing you run a stop sign), another to ask you to step out of the car (such as smelling alcohol on your breath), and another to arrest you (such as a BAC reading of .08 or higher).
An FST is more likely to benefit law enforcement because:
- The tests have little scientific value. FST exercises were developed decades ago and had little relation to the actions of driving, primarily relying on balance.
- Passing is subjective. Field sobriety exercises don’t have an objective scoring system. Instead, the officer is left to decide whether you passed, and you can still be arrested even if you perform all of the exercises.
- You could fail the test even if you’re completely sober. Poor results on FSTs have led to false arrests of sober Florida drivers. Some people have poor balance, are limited by medical conditions, or are simply too nervous to comply with the requests.
- You are giving the officer more time to ask questions. Remember: everything a police officer does is used to justify your arrest. While performing an FST, the officer may make small talk, asking, “Where were you tonight?” or “How many drinks have you had?” These leading questions can twist your answers while making it more challenging to concentrate on physical exercises.
What if I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
You’re entirely within your rights to refuse an FST without consequences if you have not been arrested. If you don’t perform the FST exercises, your results can’t be used to establish probable cause for your arrest or serve as evidence during prosecution.
However, if you refuse a field sobriety test, you’ll likely be asked to take a BAC test. Unlike field sobriety tests, breathalyzers and chemical tests are mandatory under Florida’s Implied Consent Law. The penalties for refusing a BAC test include driver’s license suspension for one year for a first offense and possible jail time for additional refusals.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Whether or not you took a Field Sobriety Test, the criminal defense team at Flaherty and Merrifield can develop a customized legal strategy to avoid a DUI conviction. We offer free consultations and convenient payment plans, making it easy to learn your rights after an arrest. Call 850-243-6097 today or fill out our contact form to learn more.