If a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of driving under the influence in Massachusetts, you’ll likely be asked to participate in some tests to check for impairment. Called field sobriety tests, these tests check for both physical ability and mental concentration. A person under the influence of an impairing substance often lacks these things.
There are three types of standard field sobriety tests. What are they? Do I have to participate if asked?
The one-leg stand
One of the field sobriety tests is the one-leg stand. If asked to do this, you will need to plant your feet in one spot then raise one roughly six inches from the ground. While your foot is raised, you have to maintain your balance without using your arms, swaying, hopping or putting your foot back to the ground. Failing to maintain balance or follow directions means failing this test.
The walk and turn
This test is exactly what it sounds like. If asked to do this, you will walk a straight line, heel to toe, for a certain distance then turn and walk back in the same fashion. While performing this action you cannot use your arms, sway, hop nor do anything else to help you maintain balance. Again, failing to follow directions or keep your balance means failing the test.
The horizontal gaze nystagmus is a little different. If asked to do this, an officer will have you look at the tip of his or her finger or a pen and have you follow it with your eyes. When moved up and down and side to side, the eyes will jerk at a certain point. When impaired, the jerking motion is supposedly exaggerated. If officers see this exaggerated jerking or if you do not follow directions, you may fail the test.
Do I have to?
The simple answer to this question is no. You do not have to comply. Field sobriety testing is voluntary. There may be consequences for failing to comply, however, and refusing does not mean you will avoid arrest.
Failed or refused: Now what?
If you failed or refused field sobriety testing and are facing criminal charges as a result, you may feel there is little you can do to help yourself. This may not be the case, though. With the assistance of legal counsel, you may be able to successfully fight your DUI charge or at least seek to minimize any consequences tied to a conviction.