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Should you take a field sobriety test if asked?

If you're pulled over for a traffic stop and it quickly becomes clear that the officer suspects that you're too impaired to drive, you'll probably be asked to take a field sobriety test. Should you do it?

It's really tempting. Most people are familiar with the basics of the standardized field sobriety tests from television. The officer may ask you to follow his or her pen with your eyes, go through the walk-and-turn test or ask you to stand on one leg and count.

If you really think that you aren't too impaired to be driving, whether you've been drinking or not, it seems like it would be worth the gamble to agree to the test. After all, isn't that your last chance to prove to the officer that you're sober enough to drive?

While every situation is unique and this advice is no substitute for that of your own attorney's wise counsel, generally you should politely decline to take the field tests, even if it likely means your arrest.

First, the field sobriety tests are hard to do correctly. The pen test is designed to reveal nystagmus, or an involuntary flicking of your eyes. The problem with this test is that there are many common conditions, e.g., migraines or ear infections, that can cause the same effect.

The walk-and-turn test requires you to count out loud, balance well and listen to the officer's instructions all at the same time. Someone who is the slightest bit nervous or tired could fail it. The one-legged standing test is similarly flawed. There are also many disputes about the scientific validity of these tests.

However, the biggest problem you face if you agree to the field tests is the fact that the officer is going to film you attempting — and probably failing — to perform them properly. If a picture says a thousand words, a video writes a novel for the jury in your case and can get you convicted fairly easily by making you look impaired even if your blood alcohol content was minimal.

If you do have alcohol in your system, your attorney can challenge the reason given by officers to pull you over, the validity of the chemical testing used to measure your blood alcohol content, the chain of custody of evidence and other issues.

Source: AAA DUI Justice Link, "Standardized Field Sobriety Test," accessed Nov. 22, 2016

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