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DWI suspicion: Things to know about field sobriety tests

| Jan 17, 2020 | DUI/DWi

When a New York police officer pulls you over in traffic, it can be quite disconcerting. If the officer suspects you of DWI, the next 20 minutes or several hours of your life might be highly stressful. In fact, depending on how the situation unfolds, the traffic stop might not only affect that day but the rest of your life, especially if you face drunk driving charges in court.

You are not necessarily doing anything illegal if you consume alcohol then drive a motor vehicle. Like all motorists, you are legally obligated to fully adhere to all traffic laws and safety regulations. In this state, if the court convicts you of DWI, it means there was evidence that your blood alcohol content level was .08 or higher at the time of your arrest.

How police determine probable cause

If a New York police officer asks you to step out of your vehicle during a traffic stop, it is likely that he or she thinks you are intoxicated or that your driving ability is otherwise impaired. To make an arrest, the officer typically must show there is probable cause, and to do so, most police officers request submission to field sobriety tests.

What types of tests are there?

Law enforcement officers use typically use three types of field sobriety tests to determine if a person is showing signs of intoxication. Such tests often include standing on one leg while counting out loud, walking a straight line with arms outstretched at shoulder length or tracking an object the officer is holding using your eyes only. These are known as the one-leg stance, walk-and-turn and horizontal gaze nystagmus tests.

How do you pass or fail?

While you are performing the actions the officer tells you to do during a field sobriety test, he or she will closely observe you. If you put your foot down during a one-leg stance test to regain your balance, for instance, the officer will definitely make note of it.

Also, if you sway or stumble while walking a straight line, or your eyes jerk erratically before reaching their maximum peripheral vision point during the eye test, these would also be issues that would prompt a low score.

No legal obligation

You might worry that if you refuse to take a field sobriety test, the officer in question will arrest you. That’s not the way it works in accordance with the law, however. In fact, you are under no legal obligation whatsoever to comply with a request to take a field sobriety test.

However, if you wind up facing DWI charges in court, prosecutors can use the fact that you refused to take the tests to try to incriminate you. This is why most people think it is better to cooperate with police as much as possible. If you do face arrest and subsequent criminal charges, the state guarantees you the opportunity to refute the charges against you.