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FIELD SOBRIETY TEST

I knew what a Field Sobriety Test was when I was stopped. We’ve seen them talked about in television commercials, TV shows, and at schools where police officers come and try to educate us about the potential punishments that go along with getting a DWI in North Carolina. Many of these tests are pretty common to every state and are easy to recognize.

For example, an officer might ask you to hold your arms out and touch your nose in a smooth motion with your index finger, which is often called The Finger-To-Nose Test. This test is incredibly faulty because a person that is pulled over might have vision problems, or problems with coordination due to a physical handicap or illness. Another test that might be administered is the Walk-And-Turn test, where you are instructed to walk along a straight line, turn around at the end of the line, and walk the line again.

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These tests may sound and look silly when you are asked to perform them by the officer that stopped you during your DWI, and in many cases they are. Field Sobriety Tests offer no clear indication on whether or not you are impaired. The only reason these tests are demanded by the officer that stopped you is that he or she is trying to prove that you committed a crime, but you do not have to incriminate yourself!

As I told to you in the story about my DWI stop, I knew that I didn’t have to perform these tests for one simple reason: they violate my Fifth Amendment rights as a citizen and as a person deserving of fair treatment. Field sobriety tests are designed to make sure you fail them, and when a failure like that leads to a DWI conviction it will haunt both your personal and professional life long after you are charged, so it is often better to say “no” in the first place. And there is a good reason to say no in the first place!

In 1966 the Supreme Court gave citizens the right to not incriminate themselves and be informed of that right by their arresting officer, which is better known as receiving your “Miranda rights”. Just like we see DWI stops on television shows and commercials, we also see officers in police dramas often tell the person they are arresting that “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult with an attorney and to have an attorney present with you during questioning. If you want an attorney but cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed to represent you.”

What many people do not know is that this right should not only be read to you while you are being arrested but that police must read you your Miranda rights before they may ask you any questions before the course of their investigating whether or not you committed a DWI. The police officer who stopped you might try to tell you that they don’t have to read you your Miranda rights before a field sobriety test is conducted, but a closer reading by professional legal advocates and defense attorneys tell us otherwise.

Just like how the courts granted citizens the right to not incriminate themselves in 1966, in 1995 the Oregon Supreme Court also instructed law enforcement agencies that all testimony BEFORE and AFTER the arrest could not be used against a citizen unless they were read their Miranda rights first. Minnesota agreed with this ruling by stating that all field sobriety tests, which are counted as testimony, must be preceded with a reading of your Miranda rights.

It is important to note that North Carolina has not yet made this law, in any case involving a DWI, but it is still an important piece of information to know in case you are ever stopped by police for anything that requires you to answer questions about your ability to perform any function, including driving.

I chose to offer myself for arrest by denying police the opportunity to conduct a field sobriety test when they pulled me over because they did not read me my Miranda rights and a field sobriety test would have incriminated me. You have the exact same rights I do and should remember this next time you are stopped by police because they believe you might be driving under the influence. Do not incriminate yourself by taking part in exercises that are meant to do nothing but give them a reason to arrest you.

But there is one more test we should talk about. It is more important to refuse this test than it is to refuse a field sobriety test, and knowing all you can about how to avoid it is important in making sure you are not punished unfairly by the state.

Let’s talk about the breathalyzer test.

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