When law enforcement officers suspect a driver of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, they often conduct field sobriety tests (FSTs) to assess impairment. In Maryland, like in many other states, these tests serve as crucial evidence in drunk driving cases.
Understanding the nature of these tests and rights regarding participation is essential. This article will explore the three field sobriety tests commonly used in Maryland and address whether individuals can refuse to participate in these tests. By familiarizing yourself with your rights, you can make informed decisions if faced with such a situation.
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
Police use field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is impaired. These tests are meant to test the driver’s coordination, balance, and ability to pay attention to multiple things simultaneously.
These tests are scientifically proven to confirm whether or not a driver is intoxicated as long as a trained police officer performs them. The results of field sobriety tests are admissible as evidence in court.
Types of Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland
You’re driving home from the bar, and a police officer stops you, or you come to a DUI checkpoint. The officer asks you to perform a field sobriety test. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) created three field sobriety tests that the officer may ask you to perform.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is designed to detect involuntary jerking of the eyes, a condition that becomes more pronounced when a person is intoxicated. During this test, the officer will move an object, such as a pen or flashlight, horizontally in front of the suspect’s eyes, observing for signs of nystagmus.
During an HGN test, the officer watches for the following (in each eye):
- Lack of Smooth Pursuit
- The onset of Nystagmus before 45 degrees
- Distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation
The Walk-and-Turn test assesses a person’s ability to perform divided attention tasks while walking in a straight line. During this test, the suspect will be asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a line, turn on one foot, and return the same way.
Officers are watching for:
- Incorrect number of steps
- Inability to follow instructions
- Not touching heal-to-toe
- Stepping off the line
- Turning improperly
- Using arms for balance
One-Leg Stand Test
The One-Leg Stand test evaluates a person’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions. In this test, the officer will ask the suspect to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count out loud.
Signs the officer is watching for during the one-leg stand test include:
- Using arms for balance
- Putting your foot down
Refusing Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland
Individuals generally have the right to refuse to participate in standardized field sobriety tests in Maryland. However, it’s essential to understand the potential consequences. Although refusal alone cannot be used as direct evidence of guilt, it may give law enforcement officers reasonable suspicion to investigate further.
It is worth noting that Maryland follows an implied consent law. This means that by operating a vehicle on the state’s roads, drivers have already consented to chemical tests to determine their BAC level. Refusing a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer or blood test, may lead to automatic administrative penalties, such as a driver’s license suspension.
If you refuse a field sobriety test, you could still be arrested if the officer thinks you are a danger to other drivers or hiding something. Other forms of DUI testing, such as a blood draw pursuant to a search warrant, cannot be declined without facing penalties.
When declining a sobriety test, be polite, and remember that you don’t have to give a reason for refusal. Do not become physically or verbally abusive toward the officer or resist arrest because this can lead to criminal charges.
Police officers must have probable cause to arrest you. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI and you were completely sober, seek the services of an experienced DUI attorney immediately.
Reasons You May Want to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
Although field sobriety tests are supposed to be standardized, they are not. They are subjective and based on the officer’s interpretation. That means the officer can claim the driver failed a sobriety test, even if they didn’t, so participating in one may not be in your best interest.
It may also be best to refuse a field sobriety test if you have certain medical conditions. A driver with mobility issues would have difficulty passing a one-leg stand, even if you’re completely sober. If you have vertigo, neurological disorders, or other medical problems that make walking or standing difficult, you may not be able to pass the sobriety test.
Contact Jeremy Widder Law If You’re Facing DUI Charges
Understanding your rights and the potential consequences can help you make informed decisions when faced with such situations. If you find yourself in a position where you are uncertain, it is advisable to consult with a legal professional to ensure the protection of your rights.
With a DUI/DWI charge, you face fines, license suspension/revocation, or jail time. At Jeremy Widder Law, we’re ready to dedicate the time, energy, and resources to supporting you from start to finish. We have years of trial experience focusing on criminal defense, violent and non-violent felonies, major and minor offenses, substance-related offenses, and more.
Together, we can take the first steps toward the outlook you’re looking for. Contact us today for a consultation.