Perhaps you were on your way home after stopping off to have a drink with friends after work. You headed home knowing that you didn't have nearly enough to drink in order to face accusations of drunk driving. Then, an officer pulled you over for some alleged traffic violation and approached the vehicle.
The officer claims he can smell that drink you had on your breath and asks you to exit the vehicle. In addition to asking you other questions, the officer requests that you participate in field sobriety tests. The next few minutes could have a profound effect on your future.
Even if you feel you should not have been stopped, it is imperative that you be polite. When talking with the officer, remember to be calm and courteous. You don't want to give the officer any further reason to suspect you of impairment.
It can be hard to know what to do under these circumstances. Before you decide, it is important to understand your options and the consequences for your choices.
Should you participate?
The police officer is trying to build a case to support arresting you. Officers will ask you to take a field sobriety test as part of the investigation.
You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test.
Field sobriety tests, including the walk and turn, one-legged stand and horizontal gaze, are problematic because they are highly subjective and easy to fail. Even stone-cold sober people fail them.
Beware of the coming guilt trip
The officer may try to guilt you into taking field sobriety tests. After all, if you were innocent, why would you hesitate to take the tests? The officer may pose the following in an attempt to persuade you:
- If you pass, that proves your innocence.
- If you have nothing to hide, why would you refuse?
- Taking the test proves to the officer that you can drive safely.
- If you refuse, it proves you're guilty.
Unfortunately, refusing a field sobriety test does not mean that an officer will let you go. If the officer has reason to believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer may arrest you.
Consequences for refusing a chemical test after arrest
Once you have been arrested, the officer may ask you to submit a blood, urine, breath or saliva test ("oral fluids") to test your blood alcohol content. It is important to understand that there are serious consequences for refusing one of these chemical tests.
Utah takes drinking and driving very seriously and has adopted an implied consent law. Under the law, anyone who drives on a Utah road effectively consents to chemical testing following an arrest for DUI.
Refusing to take a chemical test will initiate civil penalties, administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These include:
- Revoking your driving privileges
- Restricting your ability to drive a car with ANY alcohol in your system for five to 10 years
- Requiring you to use and pay for an ignition interlock device for three years
These penalties are severe and potentially costly.
Some final words
As mentioned above, refusing to take the field sobriety tests may not prevent you from being arrested and being asked to submit to additional chemical testing. Whatever you decide, the value of an attorney cannot be underestimated.
Even a misdemeanor DUI conviction can have a significant impact on your life. In addition to criminal penalties, you could also face unforeseen penalties in your professional and personal lives as well. It may be to your benefit to take control of the matter as quickly as possible by learning your rights and understanding your options.