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Think field sobriety tests are objective? Think again

Think field sobriety tests are objective? Think again

Nearly everything you read about DUI traffic stops will tell you that police officers cannot place you under arrest based on a feeling or suspicion. They must have probable cause in order to make an arrest.

How do police establish probable cause for a DUI arrest? Other than their observations of your driving and behavior, they do so through administering field sobriety tests. Since authorities use the results as evidence of impairment, you would think the tests are objective. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

The officer “grades” the tests

Even though the tests are conducted using the same instructions, the reality is that you could pass the tests with one officer and fail them with another. These tests are not objective. In fact, they rely on the officer’s opinion, which knowingly or unknowingly will include his or her biases and subjectivity. If the officer already believes you were driving impaired, the odds are high that you will fail the field sobriety tests.

It may surprise you to know that many sober people fail field sobriety tests. Many physical conditions and illnesses can affect your ability to perform the tests properly. Your age, your state of mind and even the environment can affect whether you pass or fail.

What can you do?

Fortunately, state legislatures and courts here in Michigan and elsewhere are aware of the fact that field sobriety tests rely on the subjectivity of the police officer administering them. However, if you do submit to these tests, prosecutors may use the results against you in court. It may not keep you from ending up under arrest, but you could politely and calmly decline to participate in these tests.

What about implied consent laws? The good news is they don’t apply to field sobriety tests. What this means for you is that you can legally refuse to participate in them. As mentioned above, the officer could still arrest you on suspicion of drunk driving. The difference is that you are not providing the officer with evidence to establish probable cause. You are also not providing prosecutors with further evidence that you were impaired at the time.

You may still need support

Even if you didn’t participate in the field sobriety tests, you may find yourself facing charges for DUI. You would more than likely increase your chances of achieving the best possible outcome by working with a criminal defense attorney experienced in defending individuals accused of driving impaired.