Can a NY Driver Refuse to Take Field Sobriety Test?

field sobriety test

New York Attorneys Defending Drivers Against DUI Charges

New York drivers sometimes find themselves between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” The driver has been pulled over by a police officer, or perhaps he or she has been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. The officer first asks the driver to step out of the vehicle, at which point the officer asks if the driver will submit to a field sobriety test. Can the driver refuse? Should the driver refuse? The answer isn’t an easy one.

New York is an Implied Consent State for Chemical Tests Only

Technically speaking, a New York driver is under no obligation to take the field sobriety test. True, New York is an “implied consent” state, meaning that acceptance of a driver’s license brings along with it the implied consent to allow a chemical test to determine one’s blood alcohol content (BAC). That implied consent does not, however, extend to the field sobriety test itself. Accordingly, the driver may refuse the test. Recognize, however, that the refusal may be admissible against the driver in any later DWI trial. The prosecutor may also argue that a refusal shows a consciousness of guilt on the part of the driver.

Purpose of the Field Sobriety Test

A driver should recognize that, from the moment he or she is stopped, the police officer is looking for evidence that an infraction or offense has occurred. For example, one reason why the officer asks for the registration of the vehicle is to check the physical dexterity of the driver as he or she retrieves the document. The officer wants the driver out of the vehicle so that the officer can observe a number of different things, including:

  • The driver’s demeanor
  • His or her ability to speak clearly
  • Any odor of alcohol on the driver’s person
  • The condition of the driver’s eyes (e.g., are they watery?)
  • Even the driver’s clothing (an unkempt appearance may signal that the driver has had too much to drink)

Based on these observed factors, the officer may then proceed to request the field sobriety test.

Recent Efforts are Underway to Make Field Sobriety Tests Less Subjective

As one can imagine, there is no scientific evidence that a police officer possessing a few hours of training in field sobriety tests can accurately measure whether a driver is actually inebriated. Often, the conditions are less than ideal. It may be dark. The road may be uneven or wet. The officer may be tired. Based on the obvious levels of subjectivity in giving the tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a manual of standardized instructions in an attempt to standardize field sobriety tests across the nation.

Bottom Line: To Take the Test or Not Isn’t an Easy Call

While a driver is not under arrest at the time when the sobriety test is administered, he or she should try not to make matters worse with self-incriminating conduct or statements. If the test is refused, it should be done so politely. There is a high likelihood that the officer is videotaping the entire process, so showing the officer disrespect will only haunt the driver later.

A DWI or DUI Charge is a Serious Matter

New York has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the nation. The penalties for a conviction can be severe. If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI offense, you owe it to yourself to retain the best legal team available. The attorneys at E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy have the judgment and experience to negotiate the best possible plea, and we also have the skill and tenacity required to take your case to trial if necessary.

We are one of the most highly respected law firms in upstate New York and the capital district. We have been representing clients for more than a hundred years; our law practice has stood the test of time. Make the right call. Call us now at (518) 274-5820 or complete our online form. The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm has an attorney available to assist clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – even on holidays.