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Do field sobriety tests do more harm than good?

Perhaps you had a drink or two with dinner or out with friends, but you did not think you were impaired by any stretch of the imagination. As you drove home, you noticed flashing lights in your rearview mirror and pulled over to the side of the road hoping the patrol car would pass you by.

Unfortunately, the vehicle stopped right behind you. When the officer approached and began talking to you, he or she suspected you of impairment and asked you to step out of the vehicle. At this point, you may have a choice to make regarding whether to participate in field sobriety tests.

Should you participate in field sobriety tests?

The first thing you should know is that you are under no obligation by law to participate in these tests. Many people here in Wisconsin and elsewhere do not realize that field sobriety tests are not covered by the implied consent laws agreed to upon receiving a driver's license. You may feel these tests could convince the officer you are not impaired, but you should know that many sober people fail these tests for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • The tests rely on the subjective opinion of the police officer administering them. Two officers could observe the same individual and reach different conclusions regarding whether he or she passed or failed the tests.
  • The officer's bias also plays a role in the outcome of these tests. If the officer already suspects you of impairment, it could taint his or her observations as you go through the tests.
  • Any number of factors such as weight, age, and physical illnesses or injuries can affect the outcome of the tests.

These reasons alone may serve as a warning to exercise your right to calmly and politely refuse to participate in these tests. However, even if you don't participate in them, you could still end up under arrest on suspicion of drunk driving because the officer believes he or she has enough probable cause to arrest you. Even so, you did not provide the officer with any additional evidence to create the probable cause needed to legally make the arrest.

Regardless of whether you participated in the field sobriety tests or not, if the officer arrests you, it would be in your best interest to exercise your right to an attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your rights and find the best possible resolution to the situation.

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Melowski & Associates, LLC
524 South Pier Drive
Sheboygan, WI 53081

Phone: 920-299-5074
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