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Field Sobriety Tests

Anyone can be stopped at a traffic stop for various reasons—whether it be a broken tail light, speeding, or an accidental lane change. However, your reactions to the officer and your physical characteristics will determine whether s/he will just address the original reason s/he pulled you over (ie. speeding) or interrogate you further on suspicion you of driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or drugs. Physiological characteristics such as: red or bloodshot eyes, flushed face, fumbling fingers, slurred speech, or inconsistent or slowed responses all serve as “reasonable suspicion” to believe you are under the influence or something.

When being questioned about whether you had any drinks, the most important thing is to be honest. You are allowed to have a couple drinks as long as your blood alcohol content (BAC) stays under the legal limit of 0.08%.

What is a Field Sobriety Test?

Field Sobriety Tests (also known as Standard Field Sobriety Tests) are different tests a police officer will request on the side of the road if s/he suspects you have been driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They usually occur on the side of the road after you have been stopped, so law enforcement can make sure you are not too impaired (above the legal limit) to drive.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHSTA), there are 3 main standard field sobriety tests used by Washington State police (and most states):

  • Waiving a pen in front of your face and telling you to follow it with your eyes. This is known as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN).
  • The walk and turn: Officers will ask you to take steps down a straight line in a heel-to-toe manner. This is also called the “divided attention” test because it tests your concentration in doing two things at once.
  • One leg stand: You will be asked to stand on one leg and count out loud.

Other tests can include counting numbers backwards or reciting the ABC's.

Admissibility

While the NHTSA promulgated federal standards back in 1981, states are not required by law to adhere to those standards. Ohio is the only state that has ruled that field sobriety tests are inherently unreliable, and therefore not admissible in Court. See Ohio v. Homan. The Washington Court of Appeals in 2014 specifically held that one's refusal to refuse a field sobriety test is not improper, but were permitted under the Terry stop exception of search & seizures. See State v. Mecham (2014). As a result, field sobriety test results are admissible. This case is currently on appeal and on its way through the Supreme Court.

Refusing a Field Sobriety Test

While field sobriety tests are voluntary, you are still allowed to decline them. In other words, they are not mandatory under Washington law. Albeit, few officers will inform you of that. Much like refusing to “go down to the station to voluntarily answer some questions,” you should refuse to do anything that may potentially incriminate you. However, if you refuse a field sobriety test, police are still allowed to ask you to take a breathalyzer test or take you down to the station for a blood tests—that is a situation you do not want to be in. This is why it is very important to remain calm and respectful in your interaction with the police. It is not a guarantee that they will request for your to take a breathalyzer if you refuse a field sobriety test.

Field Sobriety Tests are Different from Breathalyzers or Blood Tests:

Breathalyzer tests are devices that have a mouthpiece in which you blow into it to have your BAC measured. When someone “fails” a breathalyzer, it means the device police were using measured your BAC at above 0.08%. It is important to note however, the law on field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests differ slightly in Washington. Washington is an implied consent state, meaning that if you have a driver's license, you have implicitly agreed to be subjected to a blood or breathalyzer test if police have probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence. See Revised Code of Washington 46.20.308.

If you are arrested upon suspicion of a DUI, an officer must notify you that you may refuse to take the breathalyzer test, but if you do, you will lose your license for one year, and evidence of your refusal can be used against you in court. This holds true even if you were never convicted of a DUI. See Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 448-16. As a result, it is generally recommended you take a breathalyzer test if requested, even if it means taking it and failing it—because the penalties of refusing one are greater than a first DUI offense.

Challenging Test Results

If you refuse a field sobriety or breathalyzer test, prosecutors will argue that the refusal was done out of a "consciousness of guilt." While this is convenient script to argue at trial, in reality, a person my refuse the test for a number of legitimate reasons such as stress and intimidation. Needless to say, police don't give much leeway in asserting your freedoms, which is why it is critical to higher an assertive lawyer who will challenge each piece of evidence for you.

Seattle DUI and Field Sobriety Test Attorney:

Most people who have contacted us for help with a DUI arrest have never been in trouble with the law before. They certainly did not intend to commit a serious crime that could cost them their driver's license—especially if they were merely refusing to take a test as a means to preserve their right to say “no.” When you understand the substantial amount of money in fines and fees, and consequences of a DUI conviction, you will understand how important it is to work with an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of DUI defense in Washington State. Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has been breaking down DUI cases for decades, and seeking alternatives to a DUI conviction. Call 206-621-8777 today to schedule a free initial consultation. 24-hour-a-day call service is available at 206-660-6200.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.