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When the police can order you to do field sobriety exercises

Posted by Rob Melchiorre | Jan 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

Can the police force you to do the field sobriety tests?

No, the police cannot force you to perform the field sobriety tests.  The field sobriety exercises(not tests) are voluntary.  This means the police cannot force or order a person to perform them.  We regularly advise our clients that they should politely decline to perform the field sobriety exercises whenever requested.

Even though the field sobriety exercises are only voluntary, this begs the question of when the police are allowed to request a driver to perform the field sobriety exercises.  It is well established law that the legal standard is that the police must have reasonable suspicion before the police can ask that a driver submit to the field sobriety exercises.

When can the police ask you to perform the field sobriety exercises?

The standard of reasonable suspicion is a fairly low legal threshold for police officers to meet.  This means that it does not take very much for a police officer to be legally allowed to ask a driver to perform field sobriety exercises.  This legal threshold is usually met by a police officer's observations when they initially approach the driver to ask for their driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.  The police officer may notice the driver has an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, a flushed face, or bloodshot glassy eyes.  Additionally, when an officer requests a driver's license, registration or proof of insurance they look to see not only if the driver can find these documents, but whether they fumble through them or drop them.  Any combination of these observations will fulfill the legal threshold of reasonable suspicions.

To meet the reasonable suspicion threshold for field sobriety exercises and a police officer is not just limited to their initial observations of the driver.  A police officer can also include the driving pattern they observed(i.e. erratic driving such as a driver weaving out of their lane, a driver almost causing an accident, etc.).  A police officer can also include the answers to any questions that he asks the driver.  For instance, if the driver admits they had anything to drink or if they admitted they were coming from a bar. 

There is no set number of observations that a police officer must have before they may ask a driver to perform the field sobriety exercises.  Generally, and combination of a couple of observations mentioned above will meet the reasonable suspicion threshold. 

Do you have to get out of your car to perform the field sobriety test?  Can the police order you to exit the car for the field sobriety tests?

When the police meet the reasonable suspicion threshold discussed above, they can order a driver to step out the car.  A driver must comply and exit the car.  However, this does not mean that the driver must perform the field sobriety tests.  As discussed above the police cannot order or force a driver to perform these field sobriety exercises.

What if the police ask you to perform the field sobriety exercises without any reason?

As mentioned above the standard to ask a driver to perform field sobriety exercises is very low.  However, if the police do not meet the reasonable suspicion for the field sobriety exercises, then an attorney can file a motion to suppress 

Can the police ask you to perform the field sobriety exercises if you are injured?  Can the police ask you to perform the field sobriety exercises if you have a disability?

Then standard of when the police can request the field sobriety exercises(reasonable suspicion) does not change regardless of any injury or disability.  Our advice to drivers with an injury or a disability is to politely decline the field sobriety exercises.

About the Author

Rob Melchiorre

Mr. Melchiorre is an aggressive, diligent, and passionate attorney. His impressive track record and commitment to legal excellence have led him to honors such as inclusion on the Super Lawyers® Rising Stars list. Prior to founding Keller, Melchiorre & Walsh, PLLC, Mr. Melchiorre was a partner i...

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