It may seem like a cliché, but if police pull you over under suspicion of drunk driving, they will likely ask you to step out of the car and submit to field sobriety tests. This means walking heel-to-toe, standing on one leg, and following the officer’s finger with your eyes. These three exercises comprise the standardized field sobriety tests, but many civil rights advocates will tell you they are anything but standardized.
A standardized test means it is administered in the same way every time and scored based on a formalized scoring process, such as an IQ test or an SAT. Unfortunately, this does not always happen with field sobriety tests. In fact, even the slightest variation from the standardized procedures can invalidate the test. You may not even realize this until you are already facing the consequences of a DWI conviction.
Good reasons to say no
As in every state, Minnesota police must have probabable cause to arrest you. Field sobriety tests can give them probable cause. Officers may try to trick you or intimidate you into submitting to these tests of your balance and coordination, but you can politely refuse. The law does not require you to participate in any field sobriety tests. In fact, many legal advocates recommend that you do not submit to the these tests for the following reasons:
- Medications, neurological conditions or physical disabilities may make it difficult for you to pass the test.
- Not every officer is trained or qualified to administer the tests using standardized procedures.
- The situation or environmental conditions of your traffic stop may prevent you from successfully completing the tests.
- If you do not perform all three tests perfectly, police will consider this a failure, and they will have evidence to use against you in court.
- Officers administering the test have likely already made up their minds that you are impaired and are simply trying to establish probable cause to make the arrest.
Roadside tests may also include a preliminary breath test, which officers will perform with a portable breath device. Unless you are under arrest, state law allows you to refuse preliminary breath tests. Portable devices are not reliable and are often poorly maintained.
Prepare for the consequences if you refuse to go through the set of field sobriety tests. You can expect police will probably arrest you anyway. However, you do not have to build their case by submitting to tests that are stacked against you.