When an officer of the law pulls a vehicle over for any reason, he or she may ask the driver of that vehicle to take a field sobriety test (FST) and/or a chemical test to determine whether the driver has exceeded the legal limit for alcohol consumption while operating a motor vehicle. In many states, submission to a field sobriety test or chemical test is not technically mandatory and it is common for citizens and even attorneys to recommend against submitting to these tests. In California, however, things are different. Every person who applies for and receives a California driver's license must sign a form giving “implied consent” to a chemical test if arrested for suspected driving under the influence (DUI).
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), “You are required by law to submit to a chemical test to determine the alcohol and/or drug content of your blood” if you are arrested for DUI. For the majority of people detained on suspicion of DUI, the chemical test will be either a blood or breath test—they have the right to choose which test they will take and must be informed of such. In very specific instances, a urine test may be substituted for a blood or breath test. If a person chooses not to submit to a chemical alcohol test upon arrest for DUI, there will be legal consequences. A first refusal will lead to a 1-year suspension of their drivers' license. If that person offends a second time within 10 years, his or her license will be revoked for two years, and a three-year revocation will be issued for a third offense within 10 years.
Even drivers who have not been arrested for DUI are still obligated via implied consent to take a preliminary breath test issued by an officer. Again, it is a driver's right to refuse this test, and officers must inform drivers of this right. However, refusing a preliminary breath test is not likely to garner a favorable opinion from the officer, nor will it garner the favor of a judge, and prosecutors may argue that a driver's refusal to take a breath test is evidence of guilt. Plus, an officer still has the right to arrest a person who refuses a field breathalyzer test
While California drivers must submit to a chemical alcohol test or pay the consequences upon arrest for suspected DUI, drivers in this state are not obligated to submit to a field sobriety test. A field sobriety test is often conducted so that an officer may determine whether there is probable cause to arrest a driver for DUI. There are different physical field sobriety tests an officer may ask a driver to perform to help assess the driver's ability to maintain balance, his or her coordination, and his or her ability to pay attention. Officers may issue these tests at their discretion.
According to studies conducted by experts including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only the following FSTs are accurate and reliable:
- Nystagmus test (following an object with only your eyes will keeping your head facing forward)
While an officer may ask drivers to participate in other FSTs, the results of these tests may be easily challenged in court. Drivers are not legally obligated to submit to any FSTs, but this may raise suspicion in an officer and may lead to arrest for suspected DUI. If this happens, drivers are legally obligated to submit to chemical testing. If drivers believe that physical limitations or other factors may impair their ability to properly conduct FSTs, they should let officers know this.
When it comes to drinking and driving, the obvious solution to legal issues is not to drink and drive in the first place. Still, if you are pulled over or arrested for suspected DUI, it is in your best interests not to volunteer unnecessary information to officers who question you, to submit to chemical tests, and to contact an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible. To learn more about how a skilled LA criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you after being charged with DUI, please contact us for a consultation.