You were pulled over and the officer had you perform field sobriety exercises.
You walked the line perfectly, touched heel to toe on every step and nailed the turn. You kept your foot up for the full 30 seconds without losing your balance and counted clearly the whole time. Can the officer still arrest you?
The answer depends on how much evidence of impairment the officer observed before you were arrested. If the officer did not have probable cause to believe you were impaired, you should not have been arrested. This issue is always reviewed on a case-by-case basis, so there is no hard and fast rule about what the officer needed to see.
Difference Between Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion
Police officers must follow the law when stopping or arresting drivers. There are two different legal standards that apply to DUI stops and arrests: Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause.
An officer can detain you if he or she has a Reasonable Suspicion that you committed a crime. In the DUI context, that typically means one of two things:
- You were stopped because your driving pattern led the officer to believe you were impaired. Think swerving, crossing lane markers, even weaving within your own lane.
- After stopping you for an unrelated violation, the officer suspected you were impaired due to the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, red/glassy eyes (in every alcohol related DUI report)
When you are stopped or detained for a DUI investigation, the officer only has to have a Reasonable Suspicion to believe you are impaired. It is a lesser standard than Probable Cause.
But the officer must have Probable Cause to arrest you for a DUI. The officer will use the DUI investigation and field sobriety exercises to develop Probable Cause for your arrest.
An important part of our analysis is determining when you were arrested, legally speaking. Most of us think that the time of arrest is the instant the officer snapped the cuffs on, and in many cases that will be true. But sometimes, the officer who stopped you will place you in the back of a patrol car while waiting on the DUI investigator to arrive and administer field sobriety exercises. That could constitute an arrest, which means your case could be dismissed if the officer did not have probable cause.
What It Means to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
In Florida, you are not legally required to take a field sobriety test. You are legally required to take breath, blood, or urine tests if an officer requests these.
Unlike the breath, blood, and urine tests, which provide scientific data, field sobriety tests are subjectively interpreted by the officer at the scene. For this reason, some drivers refuse to take the field tests.
If you do refuse, you can be sure you’ll spend the night in jail. Also, though your refusal will be used as evidence against you it might be better than a video of you falling over drunk.
So what should you do? Refusing field sobriety tests guarantees a DUI arrest. But the prosecution will have less evidence to show the jury, improving your odds at trial. On the other hand, we know DUI officers don’t arrest everyone who performs field sobriety exercises. If the officer’s Reasonable Suspicion doesn’t develop into Probable Cause, you won’t have a DUI charge in the first place.
Do You Need Help with Your DUI Case?
If you have been arrested for a DUI, whether you have taken or refused the field sobriety test, you should discuss what happened with an experienced DUI attorney. A skilled and knowledgeable DUI attorney will be able to sift through the facts, find the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, and provide you with the strongest possible defense.
The consequences of being convicted of a DUI are too serious to leave your defense to chance. A DUI conviction could also lead to serious issues with a professional license you need to practice in your field.