Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

Below is an excerpt from an interview with a Maryland criminal defense attorney as he discusses breathalyzers and field sobriety tests.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are three standardized field sobriety tests.

One is the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. That’s a test in which you track a stimulus object, either a pen or the officer’s finger, with your eyes without moving your head. The officer looks for an involuntary jerking of the eyes instead of smooth tracking. It’s an involuntary physiological response, meaning you have no control over it and you can’t even tell you’re doing it. It’s called “nystagmus.”

The next test the officer will ask people to do is the walk-and-turn test, which is to walk nine steps touching heel-to toe without raising the arms, turn the proper way, which is a series of small steps or rotating around the back foot, and then take nine heel-to-toe steps back in the other direction.

The final test is the one-leg stand test, which involves standing on one leg. The officer will have you stand on one leg, raise the other leg six inches, keep your arms at your sides, and count out loud until the officer tells you to stop. That tests two things: balance and perception of time. The officer times 30 seconds and notes if you counted more or less than 30 seconds. Those are the three standardized field sobriety tests.

Legal Penalty For Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

No, there is not, and you should refuse them. They should always be refused. They are totally voluntary in Maryland so there is no legal penalty for saying no. Often after somebody refuses to do a field sobriety test, the officer will then decide to arrest them, but most people, after they do field sobriety tests, are going to get arrested anyway. It always makes sense to refuse field sobriety tests.

MVA Penalty for Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

There is no penalty whatsoever for refusing to do the standardized field sobriety tests, not against an individual’s license, and not in court. The field sobriety tests are totally voluntary. In Maryland, the officer doesn’t have to tell someone that they’re voluntary, so people don’t know that until they talk to a lawyer after the fact, but field sobriety tests are voluntary. There is no legal penalty of any sort for refusing to do them and they should always be refused.

Should You Take the Field Sobriety Tests If Sober?

Field sobriety tests are not fair tests. They are not designed to test if someone is actually impaired; they’re designed for people to fail. When somebody comes into my office, I show people what the officer is actually looking for on the walk-and-turn test. At the conclusion of that, everyone says. “Wow, that test is cheap!” and it really is. It doesn’t test if you can walk a straight line and turn around, or walk like you’re not drunk; it tests if you can follow tiny, varied directions within a long series of directions when you’re standing on the side of the road, scared that you just got pulled over for a DUI. It’s not a fair test. I tell people they should refuse it even if they’re sober.