Do I have to submit to field sobriety testing?


Picture it. You are out driving around town when a police officer pulls you over. The officer asks you to step out of your vehicle and participate in field sobriety testing. What do you do?

In the state of Colorado, you actually have a choice here. You do not have to comply with an officer’s request to participate in field sobriety testing. You can say no, but know that there may be consequences for doing so.

What is field sobriety testing?

This is a series of tests that law enforcement uses to determine if a person is driving while impaired. There are three standard field sobriety tests. They are:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • The One-leg-stand
  • The Walk-and-turn

The HGN checks your eye movements. If impaired, the eyes will make a jerking motion when looking in specific directions. The officer will also evaluate your ability to follow directions.

The one-leg-stand is just as it sounds. This is where you stand with one leg lifted several inches off the ground for a set period of time. In that time, you have to maintain your balance without doing anything to help you — such as putting your arms out or setting your foot down. Finally, the walk-and-turn is also pretty self-explanatory. The officer will have you walk a straight line, heel-to-toe, turn and walk back without losing your balance.

The problem with these tests

The problem with these tests is that they are all very subjective. All law enforcement officers are to go through the same training, so they know exactly how to perform the tests and what to look for, but this doesn’t mean that they all use their training or stick to the standards they are supposed to. One officer may view things differently than another. This makes these tests not as reliable as they should or could be.

What happens if I refuse?

If you refuse field sobriety testing, you could still end up arrested and charged with driving while impaired if the officer has reason to believe you are. The officer cannot use your refusal against you in court, however. Refusing does not make you guilty. It may even help your case because an officer can use sobriety testing results against you in court, so refusing would eliminate that evidence.