California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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Generally speaking, no. This means if you are stopped on suspicion of DUI and asked to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs), you can lawfully refuse to do so. In fact, most criminal defense attorneys and DUI attorneys recommend that you politely refuse to take FSTs because they are more likely to hurt than help your case in court.
Note that you can also legally refuse a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test. A PAS test is essentially a roadside breathalyzer test, conducted prior to a DUI arrest, that officers use to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC).
But note that under a state’s implied consent law, you are generally required to submit to a breath test or blood test if you were properly arrested for DUI. You can still decline to take a test under these laws, but it can result in:
In general, no. Under the DUI laws of most states, FSTs are voluntary. This means you can refuse to take them without penalty if you are stopped after police have probable cause that you are driving while intoxicated.1
Note that field sobriety tests are simply an investigative tool that police officers use to determine whether a DUI suspect is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. There are typically not mandatory by any means.
In fact, most DUI defense lawyers and law offices advise people to politely decline to take them. This is because:
While dozens of FSTs have been devised, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has produced three main standardized field sobriety tests. These are the:
Many states say that most drivers can legally refuse to take a PAS test. Note, though, that some exceptions may apply under the laws of the state in which you received your DUI charge in.
A preliminary breath test is a roadside breath test. Police officers use the test to measure your BAC level prior to making a DUI arrest.
Like a field sobriety test, a PAS test is a tool law enforcement use in investigating whether you are in fact a drunk driver.
Note that the results of a PAS test can be used against you in court. For this reason, most DUI attorneys advise drivers to refuse to take them.
Most states say that you cannot refuse these tests without receiving some sort of penalty.
Most jurisdictions in the U.S. have “implied consent laws.” These laws generally require you to submit to a breath or chemical test if you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI.
The purpose of an implied consent law is to help police officers measure your blood alcohol content post arrest.
You can still refuse to take a breath or blood test under these laws, but if you do, most state laws say that your state’s DMV can suspend your driving privileges for six to twelve months.3
Suspension times will likely increase for those drivers with prior DUI convictions.
Further, a BAC test refusal can lead to enhanced DUI penalties if you are later convicted of drunk driving. Enhanced penalties mean that a judge can impose a harsher sentence than for a normal DUI (for example, one with additional jail time).
Some states also provide that, should your DUI case go to trial, your refusal to take a chemical test will be admissible as evidence of guilt.4
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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