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Why field sobriety tests are so important to law enforcement

As the summer draws to a close, many will celebrate it with their last vacation before the school season, which begins in earnest after Labor Day. With many holiday weekends, there will be an increased police presence to stem the number of drunk drivers on the road. When people are stopped on suspicion of DWI, an officer commonly asks the driver to perform a series of sobriety tests.

Many people unwittingly submit to the tests, which may include the “walk and turn,” “one-leg stand,” and “horizontal gaze nystagamus.” They may believe that they can prove that they are okay to drive, only to give officers the evidence they need to insist that the driver submit to a portable breathalyzer test (PBT), which is commonly the icing on the cake when it comes to having enough evidence to make an arrest. 

Essentially, an officer needs probable cause to make a DUI arrest. This means that they must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. While erratic driving, or an accident may be sufficient, having first hand observations of a driver being drunk is key. By seeing how a driver performs field sobriety tests, an officer will essentially have the evidence he or she needs to make an arrest before a driver even knows it.

Without this evidence, an officer may only have the chemical test in which to support criminal charges. Between the time the arrest is made and the  suspect  is transported to the police station, processed, and subjected to a chemical test (especially a blood test), a person’s BAC may fall below the legal limit.

The preceding shall not be construed to be legal advice. It is designed to provide basic information. If you have questions about DWI stops, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help. 

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