What Happens if I Failed a Field Sobriety Test?

Published On: December 21, 2022By

DUI stands for driving under the influence of alcohol, and this is a common criminal offense across the U.S. If a police officer stops your vehicle and suspects that you are under the influence, they may subject you to one or more field sobriety tests. If the officer determines that you are intoxicated or impaired, they can place you under arrest for DUI.

In some instances, police officers make mistakes when administering field sobriety tests and gauging the results. Consequently, you may be eligible to raise one or more legal defenses to your field sobriety test result at trial. If the judge or jury believes that defense, your criminal drunk driving charge may be subject to dismissal.

If you face criminal DUI charges, talk with a knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer in your area right away. Your lawyer can discuss the circumstances of your arrest and criminal charge with you and develop a game plan for your case. In some instances, that might mean formulating a strong defense to assert on your behalf a trial. At other times, it might mean working to negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your case.

In any event, your lawyer will fight for your legal rights and ensure they remain protected while your criminal case is pending. Your lawyer will also represent you at all criminal court hearings and help you achieve the best possible result in your case. If you ultimately sustain a conviction on a DUI charge, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and advocate for a fair penalty on your behalf.

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What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

If a police officer pulls your vehicle over and suspects that you are under the influence of alcohol, they may administer one or more field sobriety tests. If you fail to pass a field sobriety test, that failure may serve as sufficient probable cause for the police officer to arrest you for DUI at the scene.

Although most field sobriety tests are reliable indicators of whether or not an individual is suffering from alcohol impairment, they are not infallible. Moreover, police officers sometimes make mistakes when administering these tests.

Two of the most common field sobriety tests are the Heel-to-toe Walking Test and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. During the Heel-to-toe Test, an individual must walk heel-to-toe on a straight real or imaginary line, several steps in each direction. If the individual cannot do this or quickly loses their balance, that fact may indicate they are under the influence of alcohol.

Another common field sobriety test is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. During this test, a police officer will usually shine a flashlight in the driver’s eyes and observe the movement of their pupils. When a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the inadvertent jerking of their eyes typically becomes more identifiable. If the officer observes this phenomenon, it may serve as probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI.

In addition to these two field sobriety tests, police officers may also incorporate several balance tests, such as standing on one leg, to determine if the individual is likely intoxicated.

What Is a Criminal DUI Charge?

A police officer can arrest a driver for DUI if they fail a field sobriety test or if the officer obtains a positive reading on a portable breathalyzer device. Sometimes, police officers use these devices at the scene of a traffic stop. They can also transport a driver suspected of DUI to a police station and perform the breathalyzer test there.

Passenger vehicle drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent are legally intoxicated. However, commercial vehicle drivers, including tractor-trailer drivers and minors under 21, must follow stricter legal standards. Specifically, a commercial vehicle driver is legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of at least 0.04 percent. A 0.01 percent BAC standard exists for underage drivers with alcohol in their system.

When a driver is per se intoxicated under the law, a police officer can arrest the driver, and a state prosecutor can file criminal charges for DUI and other related offenses. In some instances, a driver may be eligible to challenge a breathalyzer test result, such as if the device was not working properly when it took the reading. Similarly, a driver may be eligible to challenge a field sobriety test result under certain circumstances.

If you are pending a DUI arrest or charge, you must have a knowledgeable defense attorney representing you at every stage of the game. Your lawyer can be by your side at all legal proceedings and help you raise the necessary defenses to obtain the best possible result in your case.

Who Has the Legal Burden of Proof in a Criminal DUI Case?

In a criminal DUI matter, as in all criminal cases, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. The individual under arrest or the defendant in the case does not have to prove anything. Moreover, the defendant does not need to take the witness stand and testify in court due to their Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination.

In a DUI case, the prosecutor must demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an individual operated their motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. If the state prosecutor cannot satisfy their legal burden, they should not obtain a conviction against the driver. In that instance, the driver will not be subject to any legal penalties. However, the arrest can still show up on their criminal driving record.

Although the defendant driver does not need to satisfy a legal burden of proof in their case, they may raise one or more legal defenses to their DUI charge. These defenses can help negate one or more legal elements of the prosecutor’s case, preventing them from satisfying their legal burden and potentially bringing about a case dismissal.

A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney in your area can determine which defenses you may raise in your criminal case and can aggressively fight for your rights in court.

What Are the Potential Penalties Upon Conviction for DUI?

For a judge to assess penalties against you, the state prosecutor handling your case must first find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A sentencing judge will then be left to impose various penalties, depending on state minimums and maximums.

When assessing penalties in a DUI case, judges have some discretion. Some common penalties judges assess include monetary fines, jail time, probation, community service, and alcohol rehabilitation and treatment.

The penalties that a judge imposes will depend upon various factors, including your BAC level, the number of prior DUI convictions you have on your record, and whether or not you caused a motor vehicle accident that left someone injured or dead.

In addition to these potential legal penalties, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may impose administrative penalties, including losing your driver’s license for some time. You may be eligible to challenge a driver’s license suspension in some instances, and your lawyer can represent you at your DMV hearing.

Individuals facing DUI penalties may also experience numerous collateral consequences due to the arrest and conviction on their permanent record. In some instances, DUI offenders may have difficulty gaining admission to a college, university, or another educational program. If they are a current student, they risk losing their financial aid and scholarship funds.

Moreover, convicted DUI offenders may have difficulty finding or keeping a job. This is especially true if their prospective employer performs an online criminal background check prior to making a hiring decision.

Obviously, the best way to avoid legal penalties and collateral consequences in your DUI case is to avoid a criminal conviction altogether. However, if you ultimately sustain a conviction on your DUI charge, an experienced DUI defense lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize the penalties and collateral consequences that you receive.

What Defenses Can I Raise to a Criminal DUI Charge?

In response to a criminal DUI arrest or charge, you may be eligible to raise several legal challenges. This includes challenging a field sobriety test result.

First, your lawyer can argue that a police officer engaged in a random or unlawful traffic stop. For a police officer to pull your vehicle over, they must have at least reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation, such as by failing to use a turn signal or having a tail light out. Police officers may not engage in random traffic stops, as those stops violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. If an officer did not have the necessary reasonable suspicion of probable cause to pull your vehicle over, any DUI evidence that they later obtained might be subject to suppression.

Next, your lawyer might challenge a field sobriety test result. In some instances, environmental factors can significantly affect field sobriety test performance. For example, the weather conditions and location may prevent an individual from accurately passing a field sobriety test. Moreover, the individual may suffer from a pre-existing medical condition that affects their balance, preventing them from passing the test even if sober.

Next, your lawyer may allege that the breathalyzer machine that recorded your BAC was somehow defective. Usually, expert testimony is necessary to prove this defense.

Finally, your lawyer may argue that the police officer violated your Fifth Amendment constitutional rights by persisting in questioning you after you had already asserted your legal right to the presence of counsel.

A lawyer can raise one or more of these defenses on your behalf and pursue a complete dismissal of your criminal DUI charge.

What Is a Plea Deal in a DUI Case?

In some cases, state prosecutors will place plea deals on the table in a DUI case. Prosecutors often take this step when they are not confident in their ability to secure a conviction against the defendant driver at trial. They may have flimsy evidence, or they may not be confident in their own trial abilities.

In the context of a DUI case, for example, the state prosecutor may offer to reduce your criminal charge from DUI down to reckless driving a much less serious offense that carries lighter penalties. The prosecutor might instead make some other concession in exchange for you entering a guilty plea in the case.

In some instances, it is beneficial to agree to a plea deal, especially if the state has strong evidence against you. However, at other times, you may be better off asserting a defense at your criminal trial.

By accepting a plea deal and entering a guilty plea, you give up certain legal rights, including your constitutional right to a trial by jury, as well as your right of appeal. You must also state on the record that you entered into the plea deal freely and voluntarily and that no one coerced or intimidated you.

A skilled DUI defense lawyer in your area can explain the pros and cons of accepting a plea deal and can help you make the right decision in your case.

Call an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer Today

If you face criminal DUI charges, act fast. Generally speaking, the sooner you retain a DUI attorney to represent you and defend you at trial, the better.

A criminal defense lawyer needs time to meet with you and discuss the circumstances of your arrest, develop potential defenses to your charge, and prepare your case for court. Waiting too long to hire a lawyer can have devastating consequences.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can aggressively advocate for you at all stages of your criminal proceedings, from initial police questioning up until your sentencing hearing. If you are eligible to raise a legal defense to your DUI charge, including a defense pertaining to your field sobriety test results, a lawyer can raise those defenses on your behalf in court.

Moreover, your lawyer can work with the state prosecutor in an attempt to negotiate a favorable plea deal in your case, depending upon the circumstances. Your lawyer will represent you at every stage of your case and help you achieve the best possible result.

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