Field Sobriety Test in Tennessee – Refusing a Field Sobriety Test in TN
If you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI in Tennessee, there is a very good chance the officer will ask you to perform a Tennessee field sobriety test. Do you have to take these tests? Can the results be used against you during your DUI trial? What other rights do you have during a DUI stop?
What Is a Field Sobriety Test?
Every state in the United States uses field sobriety tests to check for DUI during stops. There are three tests that are considered “standardized” tests. In addition to these, some law enforcement offices will use “non-standardized” tests during stops. These tests are conducted to measure the level of intoxication in the driver of the vehicle.
There are three generally accepted standardized DUI field sobriety tests: Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand, and Horizontal Gaze Nytagmus.
Walk and Turn – this test is exactly as it sounds. The officer will instruct the driver to stand heel-to-toe and take nine steps along a straight line. Once that has been completed, the driver will need to turn per the instructions of the officer and walk back nine steps in the same manner. Arms are to remain at the side during the entire time and cannot be used to “balance” during the test. Driver must also look down at his or her feet and count out all steps.
Faults: this test can be affected by the conditions of the road, existing traffic on the road, weather, age, and footwear of the driver.
One Leg Stand – the driver is to stand with feet together while the officer gives the instructions for the road test. Arms are to be at the side for this test as well. The officer will demonstrate the test, which is to stand on one leg while holding out the other foot six inches above the ground. The officer will time the test for roughly 30 seconds or may require the driver to count aloud. Arms must remain at the side and are not to be used to balance oneself during the test.
Faults: this test can be affected by the road surface, meaning a slick or uneven road can result in improper balance. Other factors that could lead to failing the test are age, weight, footwear, and medical conditions, such as vertigo.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – this test based on eye movement. The officer will have the driver stand directly in front of him or her with arms by the side. The officer will then have the driver follow the movement of his or her hand or an object.
Faults: this may be the most ridiculous of all tests, as there are numerous factors that can result in an apparent “jerk” of the eye during the test. For example, since the test is being conducted outside, particles may result in this motion. In addition, various eye-related conditions, distractions, and the weather can cause the same motion to occur.
If you were unaware that these are the ONLY standardized tests recognized, you are not alone. Many law enforcement officers will also use tests such as counting backwards, saying the alphabet backwards, picking up a coin, finger to nose, and the hand pat test.
In addition to the “faults” with all of these tests we mentioned above, the passing or failing of the test is literally subjective to the opinion of the officer. While most police vehicles these days have video surveillance built into the vehicles, the test may not be conducted in full view of the camera. Even if it is, some of the factors that can cause a fail may not be immediately apparent on video. This means the officer is the sole judge and jury at the time of the testing. So, what happens if he or she is having a bad day, or his or her judgment is off that day? Do you really want to risk your future on the mere opinion of the officer?
What Happens if I Refuse a Tennessee Field Sobriety Test?
Simply put, nothing. Refusing a field sobriety test in TN does not result in an immediate arrest or an automatic DUI. What you ARE required to do is take a chemical test or risk forfeiting your license due to implied consent. There is absolutely NO benefit to taking the field sobriety test when stopped.
Honestly, even the soberest of individuals will have a problem passing these tests in the conditions offered to drivers. Think about it. You will be standing on the road, possibly on an uneven, wet surface, more than likely with a flashlight in your face, being asked to do ridiculous things that you have never practiced. Again, remember, the test results are subjective!
The officer may promise you that if you pass these tests he or she will let you go, but that is rarely the case. You may feel as though you passed the test, but the officer may think differently. Or, he or she may say that you “almost” failed, so he or she still wants to take you in for chemical tests. Be sure to NOT take the field breathalyzer. Wait for the tests by a qualified technician.
Now, when it comes down to the chemical tests, you are at risk of losing your license for up to one year on the first DUI offense in Tennessee, two years on the second and third offense. Attorneys will differ on which test, if given a choice, is the ideal test to take. The blood test can be questioned due to how long it took to have the blood taken, how it was handled, or faulty testing. The breathalyzer can also be brought under scrutiny, but the problem here is that once the sample is given, there is nothing more to test. If the attorney cannot find fault with the testing itself, the results will stand.
You have rights, use them, just do not do it in a manner that will offend the officer, or you could really end up in trouble. If you are ever arrested, follow our tips and then use DUIRights.com to find an attorney that can help you fight the charges.