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What happens if I refuse a field sobriety test?

On Behalf of | Nov 19, 2021 | DUI

If you have ever been pulled over on the side of the road with flashing police lights behind you, then you know just how overwhelming and confusing traffic stops can be. Thinking straight in situations like this is not easy, either. Some drivers may even decide to refuse to take field sobriety tests, preliminary alcohol screenings or other tests to measure intoxication levels.

While it might initially seem like a good idea to refuse testing, you need to understand the nature of implied consent. Implied consent refers to the consent you submit to things like blood alcohol concentration — BAC — testing when you receive your license. When you refuse, you can lose your license even if you were not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the traffic stop.

Can I refuse a field sobriety test?

In general, implied consent laws do not apply to field sobriety tests. They are still routinely used as part of traffic stops, though. There are three components of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration endorsed field sobriety test:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus — HGN
  • The one leg stand — OLS
  • The walk and turn — WAT

Refusing to participate in field sobriety testing usually will not lead to the automatic loss of your license. However, this does not mean that you are off the hook. So long as a police officer believes that he or she has sufficient probable cause that you are intoxicated, you could still be arrested.

What about preliminary alcohol screening tests?

A preliminary alcohol screening device — PAS — is a tool that police use to detect the presence of alcohol in someone’s breath. Like field sobriety tests, implied consent laws do not apply here either. This is because PAS devices are not the same as Breathalyzer tests.

Instead, think of PAS tests like another tool that officers use in determining whether there is probable cause. It is very important that you understand the difference between a PAS test and a Breathalyzer test. If you accidentally refuse a Breathalyzer test thinking it is a PAS, you will most likely lose your license.

Are blood and breath samples necessary?

At the police station, you will most likely be asked to submit to a Breathalyzer test. If you refuse to submit to this breath test, you could lose your license, and the prosecution can even report this to the jury if your case ends up going to trial. Implied consent is a little trickier when it comes to blood tests. A 2016 Supreme Court ruling determined that most drivers are not obligated to take blood tests absent a warrant, although there are exceptions to this rule.

A field sobriety test is often the first method that an officer uses to determine intoxication. When you refuse this test, he or she will proceed to other testing methods. If you refuse all methods of testing it is important that you understand the potential legal consequences of your actions. Some defendants in North Dakota even choose to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about their options for minimizing these consequences.


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