Gregg E. Bradshaw, LLC

Are field sobriety tests part of the implied consent laws?

Whether a Washington resident stopped to have a drink with friends, co-workers or family, or had a drink with dinner, as he or she drove home the lights of a police car appeared in the rear view mirror. Once pulled over, the officer suspected impairment and asked the driver to step out of the vehicle. What the driver does next could help steer the course of any potential DUI charge he or she may face. Should the driver participate in field sobriety tests if the officer asks?

Many Washington residents believe they must participate in these tests due to implied consent laws. When drivers get their licenses, they agree to submit to a blood or breath test if arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. However, drivers are not obligated to participate in field sobriety tests, such as the one-leg stand test, the walk-and-turn test or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Police administer these tests in order to build probable cause for an arrest. Submitting to them only helps the officers -- not the drivers.

The same applies to the preliminary roadside breath test. These tests are so notoriously flawed that many courts do not even allow the results to become part of the evidence. Fortunately, drivers do not have to take this particular breath test. Again, it only helps officers build probable cause for an arrest. Of course, once police place drivers under arrest and take them to the station or jail for an evidentiary breath or blood test, things change. The implied consent laws refer to this test, so even though drivers may refuse this test as well, they need to understand the consequences first.

Even when drivers politely refuse to participate in any field sobriety tests, they could still face charges for DUI. A conviction could mean some jail time, fines, a license suspension and more, and this does not even take into account the ramifications to their personal and professional lives. Considering the fact that the penalties even for a first offense can be harsh, it would be wise to take advantage of the right to speak with an attorney right away.

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