DUI cases often start as a normal traffic stop for speeding or some other traffic violation. When these stops occur it is important to understand your rights and the consequences of performing or refusing roadside DUI tests. More often than not in Washington State these roadside tests will consist of a test of one's eyes, two agility/balance tests and possibly a roadside breath test.
The roadside tests, or Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST's), are one way law enforcement will try to determine whether or not you are impaired by alcohol or drugs. Usually, the first test will be the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, which tests muscle twitching while one's eyes move left and right. The Walk and Turn test or Heel to Toe test is usually next and tests a person's agility, balance and ability to remember and follow multiple directions. The third test is the One Leg Stand, which tests the same attributes as the Walk and Turn. Some law enforcement officers may offer a preliminary breath test or PBT that measures alcohol on one's breath at the roadside.
These roadside tests are voluntary and you have the right to refuse to perform them. Even if you think you did well on them, the way law enforcement scores these tests make them hard to pass. This is why we advise most people under investigation for DUI refuse the roadside tests. Additionally, many individuals have injuries or health complications that affect their performance. Some people can be ill-suited to perform such tests due to their clothing or shoe choice. All of these factors can cause false positive results on the roadside tests and are important to keep in mind when choosing to perform them or not.
There can still be consequences from refusing the roadside tests. Law enforcement can still decide to arrest someone for DUI if the officer thinks there is enough other evidence to support the charge. Also, recently the Washington State Court of Appeals in the case of State v. Mecham said an individual's refusal to perform these tests can be used against them as evidence of a "guilty conscience." This means is that a prosecutor can use the refusal against the driver in court to argue the driver knew they were drunk and would fail the roadside tests. This accusation is still better than a poor performance on these tests. You can find more information about our thoughts on these tests here.
If you or someone you care about are under investigation for DUI or have already been charged, you should immediately consult with a Spokane DUI attorney to get specific advice regarding your case.