Can I Refuse to Take a Field Sobriety Test?
What are Field Sobriety Tests?
Field sobriety tests are administered to gauge a motorist’s cognitive and physical functions to determine his or her level of impairment. Law enforcement authorities use the results of these tests as evidence against the driver in a DWI case.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the three scientifically validated standardized tests include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test – The police officer observes the eyes of a suspect as he or she follows a slowly moving object such as a flashlight or pen, horizontally with his eyes. HGN is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball which occurs as the eyes gaze to the size. When an individual is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles, making it difficult to smoothly track a moving object.
- One-Leg Stand Test – Suspects are asked to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count for 30 seconds. Losing balance, using your arms to stay balanced, hopping, or putting the foot down is an indication of impairment.
- Walk-and-Turn Test – The suspect is directed to take nine steps, touching heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The purpose of this test is to assess the suspect’s ability to complete tasks with divided attention.
Refusing Field Sobriety Tests
Under North Carolina law, you cannot be forced to perform a field sobriety test and will not face an immediate suspension/revocation of your driver’s license. This is not the case for refusing to take a chemical test after a DWI arrest.
However, if you do refuse to take a field sobriety test, according to North Carolina General Statute § 20-139.1(f), your refusal is admissible in any criminal, civil, or administrative action against you later. In other words, the officer will not only be able to report that you refused the standardized field sobriety tests, but also be able to testify that you refused these tests at any hearing or trial in your case.
Furthermore, law enforcement will often use the refusal (along with any other observations related to intoxication) to either arrest you immediately for a DWI, or as the basis to justify a trip down to the police station for chemical testing. So if you elect to refuse a field sobriety test, understand the potential consequences and do so in a polite manner that does not make the situation worse.