Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in California
Understanding the Facts & Impacts of Field Sobriety Tests in CA
The field sobriety tests employed by Fresno police and the surrounding areas include Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and several non-standardized tests. They use these tests during investigations involving possible DUI offenses.
Formal administration and accreditation of the SFSTs program are available through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The three tests are administered systematically and are evaluated according to the suspect’s responses.
Three most common field sobriety tests in California are:
- One-leg stand: You are told to stand on one leg for a duration, possibly a minute or more, and to do so with as little wobbling or balance issues as possible.
- Straight-line walk: You are told to walk a straight line drawn on the ground without using your arms for balance, turn around on your heel, and do it again.
- Eye-reaction test: The officer will shine a light in your eyes and tell you to follow the tip of their pen or finger with just your pupils; you are not permitted to turn your neck.
The SFSTs were developed as a result of research sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. A formal program of training is available through NHTSA to help law enforcement officers in the Fresno area become more skilled at detecting DUI suspects, describing the behavior of these suspects and presenting effective testimony in court.
Many times, the SFSTs are administered incorrectly, in an inappropriate setting, or to an inappropriate candidate. Additionally, many officers will often use prior arrest reports and write the same observations over and over for persons arrested for DUI. Officers are rarely called on the carpet by inexperienced attorneys for these issues, however, our trained Fresno DUI attorneys can make an officer look foolish if they administer these tests wrong, use non-standardized tests, or use the same language to describe them.
Some non-standardized tests include:
- Touching finger-to-nose
- Romberg or modified position of attention
- Hand pat
- Finger count
- Reciting the alphabet
It is important to remember that with all of these SFSTs and FST's, the law enforcement officer observing the tests does not know how a person performs when they are completely sober. Thus, the lack of a baseline casts doubt on the officer’s interpretation of a person's performance in field sobriety tests.
The attorneys at Wapner Jones, PC are SFST instructors and understand what is required of an officer to administer and evaluate your performance. It is vitally important that your Fresno DUI attorney has this knowledge and experience in order to rebut the officer's testimony that, based on these tests, you were under the influence and are unable to operate a motor vehicle safely.
Can I Refuse to Submit to FSTs in California?
Oftentimes, an officer assumes a driver is under the influence before administering FSTs but requires a person to submit to these tests so they have content to write for their arrest report. Thus, a DUI suspect should exercise their right to refuse to take these FSTs because they aren’t required to. Performing any FSTs provides possible DUI evidence, but many police officers do not understand the FST testing criteria and may not remember them from their training at the police academy, which could result in an unnecessary arrest.
After getting pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence in California, odds are pretty high that sooner than later the police officer is going to tell a driver to step out of the car to perform some field sobriety tests (FST). The purpose of FSTs is primarily to determine if the officer has a reason to put you in handcuffs and charge you for a DUI. For this indirect and unspoken purpose, you should refuse to take any field sobriety tests in most cases.
During a typical traffic stop in Fresno, the officer will ask the driver to perform several FSTs. After those tests, the suspect will be informed that are being placed under arrest on DUI charges. Before placing the suspect driver under arrest, the officer will not discuss the performance or criteria they are looking for in these tests. Also, the officer does not inform the suspect of the number of clues necessary for the failure of the test by the suspect.
That’s why it is common for people facing a DUI arrest to think they performed well on their FSTs, only to discover a completely different description of their performance in the officer’s arrest report.
Will I Get in Trouble for Refusing a Field Sobriety Test?
Think about the field sobriety tests mentioned above and figure out which one seems like it can be judged accurately. If you’re thinking the answer is none, you are correct. A field sobriety test always relies on the officer’s subjective opinion and discretion rather than reliable forms of calculation or study, and the criminal justice system knows this.
In California, you can refuse to take a field sobriety test without any immediate consequence due to the unreliable nature of the tests. If you choose to refuse, you may likely be taken back to the police station and detained, but not charged, for a DUI. Then you may be told to take a chemical test, such as one that uses your breath, blood, or urine. You should not refuse chemical tests, as doing so permits the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to instantly take away your driver’s license. Since this is an administrative punishment, no criminal defense attorney in the state can bring it to criminal court and challenge it.
Arrested for DUI? Get Defense!
If you are facing DUI-related in the Central Valley region, including Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County, you must remember that you have options. Take a moment to contact our DUI attorneys at Wapner Jones, PC and schedule a free consultation to learn how we can fight for your freedom and help you navigate your DUI case.