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Can You Refuse to Take a Field Sobriety Test in Illinois?

Posted on behalf of Donahue & Walsh, P.C. | November 22, 2023

Field sobriety tests are a highly subjective procedure that police officers may initiate if they suspect you have been drinking when they pull you over. Therefore, not only is it your right to decline to submit to field sobriety testing when pulled over by law enforcement – it is in your best interest to refuse.

The “results” of field sobriety tests are at the discretion of the officers administering them; agreeing to take a field sobriety test is unlikely to benefit your case. For example, the officer may have already decided that you are intoxicated before asking you to take the test. In addition, there are a variety of factors ranging from weather to health conditions that may further impact the results of the testing.

What Kinds of Field Sobriety Tests Are There?

Aside from breathalyzer testing, there are three field sobriety tests that a law enforcement officer may ask you to perform if they suspect that you are intoxicated. It is important to remember that you do not have to submit to these tests.

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: The officer will hold a pen or object close to your nose and observe your eye movements as they slowly move the pen side-to-side. The officer will look for evidence of nystagmus, a jerking eye movement characteristic of intoxication. If they observe four or more instances of nystagmus, they may arrest you for DUI.
  • Walk and Turn Test: There are two stages of the walk and turn test: Instruction and performance. The instruction phase requires the officer to ask you to stand heel to toe with your arms at your side while they explain the test performance procedures. During the performance phase, you will take nine heel-to-toe steps with your arms at your side, turn around, and repeat the process. As you complete each phase of the test, the officer will be watching for clues that indicate intoxication, including trouble balancing during either stage of the test, not following instructions or miscounting steps. Two or more indications may lead to further testing or an arrest.
  • One-Leg Stand Test: The officer will instruct you to lift one foot approximately six inches off the ground and stand with your arms at your side for 30 seconds. During the test, the officer will look for issues balancing, hopping, swaying, or putting your foot down before the 30 seconds are up. Observing two of these clues constitutes probable cause for a DUI arrest.

It’s A Good Idea to Decline Field Sobriety Testing

Field sobriety tests such as the one-leg stand, walk and turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus tests have wide margins of error. Imprecise test administration, testing conditions, physical ailments, sloped surfaces, and even the footwear that you are wearing may contribute to an unfounded DUI arrest. All three tests are physical challenges that may be difficult even for individuals who are 100% sober.

Despite the wide margin of error, field sobriety test results may be used as evidence against you in your DUI case. However, submitting to the tests creates an obstacle your defense must overcome to prove your innocence. An experienced DUI defense attorney will investigate the testing circumstances and may be able to demonstrate to the prosecution that these highly subjective tests did not reflect your actual condition at the time of the arrest. Additionally, if you’ve failed these tests and it resulted in an arrest, contact us online to arrange a free, confidential consultation.

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