Failing a field sobriety test easier than some might think

The consequences of getting a DUI in California go beyond the immediate fines and driver's license suspension. People with a drunk driving conviction can face legal, financial and emotional repercussions that can last for years. These can include the inability to travel to or obtain a job, jail time and the social stigma that comes with having a drunk driving conviction. Unfortunately, there are people who have not had anything to drink who may need to defend themselves in court against a drunk driving charge.

One of the ways it is possible to get arrested for impaired driving, despite being sober, is by failing a field sobriety test. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, the Standardized Field Sobriety Test is a series of tests that helps law enforcement determine if someone has been driving under the influence, based on the person's reactions and responses to the test. However, it can be difficult for some people to pass this type of test if they struggle with physical, mental or health issues.

Common ways a sober person can fail a field sobriety test

Police officers conducting field sobriety tests often require the subject to perform such activities as standing on one foot for 30 seconds or longer without losing his or her balance, or walking in a straight line and then turning and walking back in the opposite direction. According to ABC Action News, people with physical or cognitive impairments may find these tests difficult. Some examples of those who may have problems with the test include:

  • Older, overweight or disabled individuals.
  • People with inner-ear conditions who have trouble balancing.
  • Those with physical restrictions that affect the way they walk.
  • Someone with a spine, leg or foot injury.

Additionally, some people may have slurred speech resulting from a stroke or other impairment, which can cause an officer to mistakenly assume the person has been drinking.

Failing a field sobriety test is not limited to impairments a subject may have; it's possible for law enforcement officers to conduct the test inaccurately. In fact, says the Michigan Bar Journal, at least one study concluded that police incorrectly performed the field sobriety test 95 percent of the time.

Here in California, you are not compelled to participate in any pre-arrest field sobriety tests. Particularly if you have physical limitations, telling the officer that you aren't able to do these tests can be deemed in your best interest. Pre-arrest, you can even decline to give a breath sample with no mandatory legal consequences whatsoever. By law the police have to tell you this. They often times don't. But once you are under arrest, the law requires the police to give you your choice of blood or breath testing. Your failure to make a verbal choice and to cooperate with the police from this point on can have a very adverse impact upon your driving privileges.

If you are unable or refuse to complete the breath testing, and you then refuse to provide a blood sample, current law requires the police to get a warrant before blood is drawn. While failure to get a warrant can result in the blood test results being thrown out, refusal is a very tricky thing for lawyers to deal with, and can, in certain circumstances, be used against you in a California DUI trial.

How an attorney can help

Anyone facing drunk driving charges, whether or not they failed a field sobriety test, is entitled to be treated fairly in court and to have their side heard. Depending on the factors leading up to the arrest, an experienced DUI defense attorney may be able to get some charges lessened or even dropped altogether. A DUI can make a huge impact on your life. If you've been arrested, contact an attorney right away to protect your rights.