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Are Field Sobriety Tests Required in California?

By San Diego Attorney on June 30, 2022

What things make police pull a driver over?

To pull a driver over for suspected DUI in California, police need “probable cause,” which can include erratic driving and minor traffic violations.

Signs that your driving might be impaired include delayed reaction time as you take a corner (leading you to drift across the road as you round a bend), hitting the brakes slightly too late at a stop sign, or failing to signal before you turn.

A very strong sign someone might be under the influence is when they drive at night and forget to switch their headlights on. Drifting across a lane on a highway, or making a wide right turn—not turning into the lane nearest the curb—are also potential reasons for an officer to pull you over.

It’s a good idea to pay particular attention to your driving at night, as police are more alert for the signs of drivers who are potentially impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Be aware that police may follow you if they see you leave a bar, and be looking for an excuse to test you.

What do field sobriety tests consist of? Are you required to do these tests?

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are designed to test your level of physical and mental impairment, and they can be used as grounds to arrest you on a suspected DUI if you fail them.

In the California Vehicle Code, there are two DUI sections regarding alcohol—one governed by blood alcohol content, and another more general section (23152(a)), making it illegal “for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.”  A third section, S 23152 (g), makes it an offense to drive under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol.

Even if your breathalyzer test shows your blood alcohol content is below the legal limit, you can be arrested using your field sobriety test results.

FSTs can be carried out by the officer who pulls you over, and also by the drug recognition expert who will assess you at the police station in cases of suspected drug use.

Tests commonly used in California include the one-legged stand (standing on one foot for 30 seconds) and the walk-and-turn test where you walk along a line, turn, and walk back.

They also include the horizontal nystagmus eye-tracking test (where officers ask you to follow a stimulus with your eyes) and the Romberg Balance Test (where you are asked to stand with your eyes closed and arms outstretched, and the assessor checks for signs that your body is swaying).

You do not have to complete any FSTs  when the police ask you to do them.

What happens if you say no? SHOULD you do them?

Some drivers take these tests because they think it’s a quick and easy way to prove that they are not affected by alcohol or drugs. However, taking these tests is risky.

Wearing unsuitable footwear (such as high heels), being overweight, being tired, being very nervous, having neurological problems or issues with your eyesight, or simply being naturally uncoordinated are all reasons why even people who are completely sober might fail.

If the police don’t give the instructions properly, or you don’t understand them for some reason, this can also possibly give rise to a failed FST test.

There are no real benefits to you doing an FST—in fact, it may give police grounds to arrest you. Officers may try to persuade you, but they cannot compel you to complete one of these tests.

How can a lawyer help you?

If you have been arrested due to a failed FST, contact jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys today. We can talk you through the situation and represent you in court. Call (760) 630-2000.

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