Should you take a field sobriety test or not?

Spending a portion of your day on the side of a Tennessee roadway, looking into the eyes of a police officer who has pulled you over in traffic, is probably not your idea of fun. Perhaps you're among many motorists in this state or others who have incurred a speeding ticket a time or two in the past. While it's not a good thing to get points against your license, facing a fine for traveling a few miles over a posted speed limit is not likely to ruin your life. Facing criminal charges for drunk driving might, however.

Depending on the circumstances of the traffic stop and also whether or not you have a criminal record that includes past DUI convictions, a single traffic stop that leads to a suspected drunk driving arrest can have serious and far-reaching consequences. That's why it's so important to understand field sobriety tests and to know where to seek support if a problem arises.

You are under no legal obligation to submit

If a Tennessee police officer tells you that he or she is going to arrest you if you refuse to take a field sobriety test, you should immediately comply, right? The answer is that you should only submit to such tests if you fully understand your rights and all that the situation might possibly entail. The following facts may influence your decision:

  • A police officer cannot arrest you for refusing to take a field sobriety test. You are not legally or administratively under any obligation to take such tests.
  • State law allows you to operate a motor vehicle after imbibing alcohol as long as your blood content level never reaches .08.
  • Field sobriety tests are unreliable and subjective. The police officer's personal opinion weighs heavily into the balance.
  • A police officer has full discretion to determine whether you pass or fail the test. There are no standard scoring patterns or assessments, meaning the guidelines tell the officer to check for certain behaviors but do not specifically or legally define those behaviors.
  • To further explain the previous point, there is no legal definition for a word like "sway." It is up to the police officer to determine what constitutes swaying while you walk or try to balance on one leg.
  • Prosecutors may not use the fact that you refused a field sobriety test as evidence to incriminate you in court; however, most prosecutors know how to use such information to gain the court's favor in a criminal case.

When deciding whether or not to take a field sobriety test at a police officer's request, remember that you have rights and also that a police officer must adhere to regulations governing law enforcement behavior during a traffic stop. Facing DUI charges in this state or any other is definitely a serious matter that can adversely affect your present life as well as your future, so you want to be sure you clearly understand your rights and know how to access support to help you protect them.

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