Taking Field Sobriety Tests | Zirkin & Schmerling Law

If I’m Pulled Over By Police, Do I Have To Do a Field Sobriety Test?

do i have to do field sobriety tests

If a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of drunk driving, the next few minutes are of critical importance to your future. Worried and scared, most people do whatever the officer requests, including taking a field sobriety test.

But are you required to do so? The answer is no. People routinely decline these tests due to medical conditions, disabilities, anxiety, and even concerns about icy and snowy weather. In fact, you don’t even have to give a reason. It’s your right to refuse a field sobriety test in Maryland, period.

Let’s take a closer look at how field sobriety tests work and some tips for declining to take one if a police officer stops you in Maryland.

Field Sobriety Tests Aren’t Always Accurate, But They’re Admissible

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a field sobriety test as a set of three individual tests a police officer performs during a roadside traffic stop to determine whether a driver is showing signs of impairment. These three tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test, the Walk-and-Turn Test, and the One-Leg Stand Test.

  • HGN: As you attempt to watch a stimulus like an ink pen, the officer looks for signs of nystagmus. Nystagmus is a condition that causes involuntary eye jerking.
  • Walk-and-turn: The officer observes your ability to pay attention to verbal instructions while also observing the stability of your heel-to-toe steps as you walk away and back to them.
  • One-leg stand: The officer observes your ability to pay attention to verbal instructions while also observing your stability with raising one foot about 6 inches off the ground for 30 consecutive seconds.

This set of tests has been used in police work since the 1970s. However, you might not realize they’re not 100% accurate – nor are they intended to be. Police officers use them to solidify an opinion on whether you’re too intoxicated to drive, collecting the results as evidence.

Scientific testing has found that, in terms of detecting subject that are at or above a 0.08 blood alcohol level content, the walk-and-turn test is about 79% accurate, the one-leg stand is 83% accurate, and the HGN is 88% accurate. That is plenty of room for error when the standard of proof is proof beyond of reasonable doubt. However, field sobriety tests are still usually admissible in court.

Should I Decline to Do a Field Sobriety Test?

In most cases, it’s best to decline a field sobriety test in Maryland. Here’s why: The officer has already observed you driving in traffic, pulled you over, interacted with you, and perhaps detected an odor of alcohol. They’ve likely already formulated a decision to arrest you.

This means sobriety testing is really just a way of gathering additional evidence against you to use in court later. Do you really want to volunteer that evidence?

Plus, here in Maryland, it’s a request – not a requirement. Police officers often phrase it as a polite question or an outright directive. But either way, don’t feel pressured to give in. Our state’s law creates no specific consequences for refusing a field sobriety test.

And, most importantly, field sobriety tests do not include the breathalyzer test administered a police station. Whether or not you should decline to take a breathalyzer test is a separate question answered by clicking here.

Here’s How to Decline a Field Sobriety Test

If you’ve been pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving in Maryland, here’s how to handle the officer’s request for a field sobriety test.

  1. Be polite to the officer.
  2. Let them know that you’re declining to take the test.
  3. Explain that you’d like to call an attorney.

After refusing the test, you’ll probably take a ride down to the police station, but you’ll also avoid giving the police evidence against you. You’ll speak to your attorney soon and find out what’s best to do next. Remember, DUI charges can happen at any time day or night, so make sure you choose a Maryland DUI lawyer who takes calls 24 hours a day – like Zirkin & Schmerling Law.

Have a Legal Question About Field Sobriety Tests? We Have Answers

For issues involving a field sobriety test, the attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law can help. Contact us or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys today.

Video Transcript

Hi, my name’s Erik Atas and I’m head of the criminal defense department here at Zirkin and Schmerling Law. The purpose of this video is to answer the question, if I’m pulled over by an officer for a traffic stop, do I have to complete a field sobriety test? And the answer to that question is no.

Now first, what are field sobriety tests? What we’re talking about is a situation where you’ve been driving a vehicle, the officer pulls you over, they’ve already asked for your license and registration, and now they’ve asked you to step out of the vehicle. And once there, the officer may phrase it as a polite question or more as a directive to ask if you could perform some tests. You absolutely have the right to say no to these tests. These tests are not required. There is no specific consequence for fusing these tests.

Now, you might think, “Well, what if the officer’s going to arrest me now because I refuse to take these tests?” I want you to keep this in mind. This is an officer that has already observed your driving, has already interacted with you at the side of your car, meaning they may have been able to see bad driving, may have been able to pick up an odor of alcohol. Once the officer has asked you to step out of the vehicle, they’ve already likely formulated a decision to arrest you and performing those standardized field sobriety tests are just this officer’s opportunity to get more evidence of your likely drinking and driving.

Again, be polite with the officer, but let them know you are declining to take these tests. Also, inform the officer that you’d like to call an attorney. Our office handles calls 24 hours a day. I can be reached at (410) 356-4455. Thank you.