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Should I refuse a field sobriety test?

You just left happy hour in downtown Minneapolis. It was a low-key evening with friends and colleagues; you had a few glasses of wine with appetizers but feel okay to drive. You hop on the I-94 and start to head home. With any luck, you’ll be there in 15 minutes and ready to watch a movie.

Then you spot a flash of red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. Uh oh. A cop.

You nervously pull over to the side of a freeway ramp and a uniformed patrol officer comes to your window. He asks if you have been drinking, to which you honestly admit that you had a few but that’s all. The officer explains that you were going 10 miles over the speed limit. He asks for your driver’s license and proof of insurance. You comply.

The officer then asks you to step out of the car so he can administer field sobriety tests. You are scared and don’t want to get in trouble – but your instincts are telling you to refuse. What do you do?

Trust your gut. Whether you think you’re guilty or not.

Minnesota has an implied consent law on the books. Under the law’s provisions, motorists pulled over on suspicion of a DWI can politely refuse to participate in field sobriety tests. They also have the right to ask to speak to a lawyer before agreeing to any tests that may or may not determine if they are over the legal limit to drive.

So, what exactly are field sobriety tests? They are a series of tests that a law enforcement officer can try to administer when he or she makes a traffic stop on a suspected drunk driver. The tests include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus, or an involuntary jerking of the eyeball that occurs as the eyes gaze to one side;
  • The walk-and-turn, where the motorist is asked to take nine steps touching heel to toe and in a straight line;
  • The one-leg stand test, where the person is told to stand with one leg about six inches off the ground and count beginning with one thousand one for thirty seconds;
  • The portable hand-held breath test that can be administered on the side of the road.

The only purpose of field sobriety tests are to give an arresting officer probable cause to justify a DWI arrest. That being said, you are allowed under the law to politely decline participation in any and all field sobriety tests. Minnesota’s implied consent law requires motorists to submit to a formal breath test at the police station, but again, that requirement does not extend to field sobriety tests on the side of the road.

No matter how intimidated and nervous you are – or how certain you are about your ability to pass  – decline any and all field sobriety tests.

Declining the tests is basically all you should say during the entire traffic stop. In the scenario above, the motorist admitted having a few drinks. However, all drivers should remember their right to remain silent(it’s not just something you see on television cop dramas; it’s a true legal right even in DWI cases) and politely decline to answer questions or provide other information until you have spoken to an attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases.

You are only required to provide identifying information to the officer, as in your license, registration and proof of insurance. Always remember to keep your license and proof of insurance close and ready to hand over by the time the officer reaches your car. If an officer notes that you are fumbling with your belongings or struggling to find what you need, he or she can assume you are drunk and use it as probable cause to start a DWI investigation.

Remember, all law enforcement officers in Minnesota have to have a valid reason to suspect you have consumed more than the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol level. Speeding on a Friday evening isn’t necessarily enough. Having one drink isn’t necessarily enough. It’s not unusual for a DWI case to get thrown out by a judge because the police officer didn’t have a good enough reason to ask a motorist to get out of his or her vehicle. The officer has to prove that you were impaired before he or she stopped you. If he or she can’t, the case isn’t valid and there is a strong chance for a dismissal.

Don’t try to be too friendly or chatty. You likely won’t charm your way out of this.

Before you answer any questions, agree to any tests, or sign any form, you should insist on speaking to a DWI lawyer. When asked to participate in field sobriety tests or a portable breath test, Minnesota law provides motorists with the right to talk to their attorney before deciding whether to participate. The officer may arrest the person and either demand a more rigorous evidentiary test of the person’s breath or seek a warrant to obtain a sample of the person’s blood or urine. That’s why an attorney’s involvement early on is crucial. Take advantage of an opportunity to talk to a lawyer about the best course of action under the specific circumstances of your situation.

The bottom line? You must comply with reasonable orders from the officer, hand over your identifying information and should remain courteous. But that’s all.

What to do? 

A drunk driving citation in Minnesota is known as a DWI, which stands for driving while impaired. Many states refer to the charge as a DUI, short for diving under the influence.

Regardless of what authorities call it, a police officer can arrest someone on suspicion of DWI even if he or she hasn’t been drinking. In Minnesota, “impaired” can be applied to a person who is taking legal prescription drugs or even someone who is overly tired. It’s all up to the discretion of the arresting officer.

Sound like you or someone you know? Contact the experienced Minnesota DWI attorneys Gerald Miller, P.A. Our expert team will look at your case and determine the best course of action. We will guide you through the process, working toward a positive outcome no matter the circumstances of the arrest.

We are often asked, “Should I contest this case?” Yes. You should, absolutely, positively 100 percent of the time. Every arrest is different; few are open and shut cases. We look at every aspect of the case, from time of the arrest to the officer’s actions to the accuracy of your Breathalyzer test. There is always hope.

What makes Gerald Miller different from other Minnesota criminal defense lawyers?

The Minneapolis lawyers at Gerald Miller handle all aspects of criminal law across the Twin Cities and statewide – we can defend you on traffic citations, drug charges, theft, weapons charges, probation and parole violations and more – but we have specialized in DWIs for decades. A DWI affects your driving ability, your finances and your professional reputation. Don’t let one mistake hinder a promising future.

We can help you put this behind you.

Call the attorneys at Gerald Miller today at 612-440-4610. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to give you some answers, a little hope and plenty of well-deserved peace of mind. 

You can email us here. We can also be reached on Facebook, Twitterand LinkedIn.

A DWI or DUI charge can happen to anybody. We are on your side.

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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