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Don't let an officer talk you into field sobriety tests

Let's face it, police officers have a difficult job. They put their lives on the line every day to keep you safe. It's their job to keep dangerous people off the streets. One way in which they do so is by taking drunk drivers off the roads.

In order to accomplish this, they need to develop probable cause for an arrest. They cannot simply suspect you of drunk driving and put you into the back of a police car. Police develop probable cause in several ways, but one way that could get you into trouble is by asking you to participate in field sobriety tests. Participating in these tests may guarantee an arrest since it's easy to fail them.

Are field sobriety tests designed for you to fail?

If you are one of the many people here in San Diego that assumes field sobriety tests objectively identify when an individual is impaired, you aren't alone. While there is some scientific evidence to back up these tests, fundamental problems also exist that make them unreliable. For instance, any number of health conditions can skew the results. Just as an example, if you have an ear infection, your balance will naturally be off, which means you will probably fail the tests.

The biggest issue with field sobriety tests is that they rely on the subjectivity of the police officer. He or she is human, and his or her bias against you will influence the results of the tests. After all, the officer asked you to participate in these tests because he or she already suspects you of impairment.

The officer will attempt to make you comply

In case you didn't already know, you are not legally obligated to participate in field sobriety tests. You have the right to politely and calmly decline to take the tests. More than likely, the officer will attempt to convince you to participate through one or more of the following arguments:

  • The law says you have to participate. 
  • If you refuse, a jury will think you are guilty.
  • Don't you want to prove to me you can drive safely?
  • This is the best way to prove you aren't drunk.
  • If you don't have anything to hide, why would you decline to participate?

These may seem like sound arguments, but they are specifically designed to guilt you into participating so that the officer has probable cause to arrest you. It isn't your job to prove or disprove whether you are impaired. It is the officer's job, and subsequently the prosecutor's job, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are impaired. You do not have to help in that effort by participating in field sobriety tests.

Not participating does not guarantee the officer won't arrest you on suspicion of drunk driving. However, it does prevent you from giving the officer the ammunition he or she needs in order to establish a legal cause to place you under arrest.

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