What Happens if You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in California?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense that can have severe consequences for individuals in Los Angeles. When law enforcement suspects a driver of being impaired, they often conduct field sobriety tests (FSTs) to assess the individual’s level of impairment. However, many individuals are unaware of their rights and the potential outcomes of refusing these tests. In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of refusing a field sobriety test in Los Angeles, discussing the legal aspects, the consequences, and the importance of seeking professional legal advice when facing DUI charges.

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are a set of physical and cognitive tasks designed to evaluate a driver’s coordination, balance, and mental clarity. They are typically conducted on the roadside during a traffic stop when an officer suspects the driver may be impaired. Some common field sobriety tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT), and one-leg stand (OLS) tests.

It is essential to note that field sobriety tests are not mandatory in California. You have the right to refuse to perform these tests, and doing so is not an admission of guilt. However, refusing a field sobriety test may have certain consequences and legal implications.

Implied Consent Law

In California, like many other states, there is an implied consent law that comes into play when it comes to DUI-related tests. According to this law, by obtaining a driver’s license, individuals are deemed to have given their consent to chemical testing, such as breath, blood, or urine tests, to determine their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) if lawfully arrested for a DUI. It is important to note that this implied consent law specifically applies to chemical tests and not to field sobriety tests. Implied consent does not apply to the roadside field sobriety tests. Those are optional. The breath test (typically at the station) or the blood test must be submitted upon a request by a police officer, otherwise the driver will face significant penalties. There is no penalty for refusing the field sobriety tests.

Consequences of Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

  1. 1. Officer’s Observations: If you refuse to participate in field sobriety tests, the officer may rely on their observations and other evidence to establish probable cause for an arrest. This can include your driving behavior, physical appearance, odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and any admissions you may have made during the traffic stop. Refusing the tests does not prevent the officer from arresting you if they believe they have sufficient evidence to do so.
  3. 2. Subjective Opinions: Field sobriety tests are subjective in nature, relying on the judgment and interpretation of the arresting officer. Even if you are completely sober, an officer may still perceive your performance as indicative of impairment. This subjectivity can introduce inaccuracies and potential biases into the assessment, leading to an arrest despite your innocence.
  5. 3. Lack of Evidence: By refusing field sobriety tests, you deny the prosecution potential evidence that they could use against you in court. However, it is important to understand that refusing these tests does not guarantee a dismissal of charges or immunity from prosecution. Prosecutors can still rely on other evidence, such as the officer’s observations, dashcam footage, and witness statements, to build their case against you. However, it is common today for officers to seek a McNeely warrant which is a court order signed by a judge, authorizing the police to extract blood against your will. They will hold you down if necessary, and still punish you for refusing, even though they ultimately end up with a sample of your blood.
  7. 4. License Suspension: Refusing a field sobriety test does not directly result in the suspension of your driver’s license. However, if you have been arrested for DUI and refused a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer or blood test, your license may face suspension. The length of the suspension can vary depending on prior offenses and other factors but a refusal carries with it a minimum of one year of no driving anywhere, not even to work. 
  9. 5. Potential Jury Bias: If your case goes to trial, the fact that you refuse field sobriety tests may be presented to the jury as evidence of guilt or an attempt to hide impairment. Jurors might interpret your lack of cooperation as an indication that you knew you had something to hide. 

Contacting a DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles

If you find yourself in a situation where you refuse a field sobriety test, it is crucial to contact a DUI lawyer in Los Angeles promptly. Refusing a tests can have serious consequences, as it may result in the suspension of your driver’s license or other legal ramifications. Our team specializes in handling cases related to driving under the influence and possesses the knowledge and experience to navigate the complexities of the legal system. By reaching out to the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin, you will receive expert guidance on the best course of action to take, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you have a strong defense strategy. Contact us today!

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