Steve Palmer
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Can You Refuse Field Sobriety Tests In Ohio?

My name is Steve Palmer. I have over 25 years of experience as a criminal defense and OVI attorney in central Ohio. My firm, Palmer Legal Defense, is located in Columbus and is exclusively dedicated to the practice of criminal law. I have been following the trends and changes in DUI and OVI laws for decades and one common question people ask is whether you have to take a field sobriety test (FST) if asked to do so by law enforcement.

Are You Required To Take A Field Sobriety Test?

Most people debate the merits of refusing a breath test or other chemical test after being arrested for OVI or DUI in the city of Columbus or the state of Ohio. That is certainly a valid debate. In the state of Ohio, there are automatic consequences and license suspension for refusing to take a breath test.

However, an equally important (perhaps more important) question – is whether to refuse a field sobriety test. There is no legal requirement to take an FST.

Unlike chemical BAC tests, there is no “automatic” consequence for refusing. In other words, there is no reason to ever submit to field sobriety tests if there is any doubt at all about passing.

The Intent Of A Field Sobriety Test

The police do not tell people stopped on the side of the road that they do not have to take FSTs. In fact, police often act as if it is just a routine part of the stop as if it is required. But it is not. And that is perhaps the most important thing anyone can know and understand.

In both Columbus and Ohio, field sobriety tests are not designed to establish that someone is sober. These tests are designed to prove the opposite. It works. Few people can complete FSTs without mistake, irrespective of the amount of alcohol they have consumed. To be sure, alcohol makes it harder. But it’s been proven that not everyone who is sober can pass these tests.

Start with the premise that these are tests. Unlike most tests, however, the administrators (law enforcement officers) do not tell drivers how they are being graded. Imagine sitting in high school and the teacher springs a test on the class. There is no notice of the subject of the test, how it is graded, or what happens upon failure. That scenario hardly seems fair. But it happens all the time with FSTs. Police stop a driver and immediately administer tests. This typically results in handcuffs, a cruiser ride to the police station and the awful choice of whether to take a BAC.

In short, there is no requirement that a driver take FSTs, and there will be no mandatory license suspension for a refusal.

Why You Should Refuse A Field Sobriety Test

To answer this question, we have to look at the big picture. FSTs provide law enforcement with information used to arrest suspects and later describe why. It’s not so simple when someone refuses. FSTs often provide crucial evidence used against a driver to justify an arrest and later conviction for DUI. Conversely, a case becomes very “lean” without FSTs. Police do not have a baseline to describe why they think someone was impaired.

In short, it’s better to have less evidence than more. And in most cases, a criminal defense attorney would rather defend a case without FSTs, even if there is a breath test.

There are always those who think they are going to convince the police that they are “sober.” They are going to nail the tests, prove the police wrong and cruise home with the radio blaring.

This may happen, but not often. Here’s the thing. If a driver is impaired at all, the police are going to arrest them without or without FSTs. It’s really about defending the case later and providing as little incriminating evidence as possible. If you are facing an OVI charge, I am sure you have a lot of questions. Also, as an experienced OVI attorney, I can still help defend your case, even if you chose to take a field sobriety test.

Do You Need An OVI Attorney?

If you have been charged with an OVI, I can help you through the process, defend your rights and help you get your life back on track. I don’t want one mistake or bad choice to destroy your future. You can schedule an appointment by calling me at 614-224-6142 or by sending me an email through my website.