Field Sobriety and Breath Tests: Should I Refuse?

If police ever detain you on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI/DWI), police will likely ask you to submit to alcohol testing, which often includes a breath test. When confronted with this situation, you will have to answer very important questions: Should you perform field sobriety tests or refuse them? Should you refuse a Breathalyzer or take it?

Most people have no idea field sobriety tests tests are optional! You will be asked to perform a HGN or horizontal gaze nystagmus (follow the pen) test, a walk and turn test as well as a one leg stand test. You have every right to politely refuse to take these tests. This may result in your arrest, but that is not likely to be changed by jumping through hoops for the police. All of the tests police request you perform are for the police to gather evidence to be used against you. A Breathalyzer is also offered on the side of the road. This cannot be used in court, as it is not reliable enough for court. It can only be used as evidence of drinking to validate an arrest. There is no benefit to taking this test unless you have not consumed alcohol.

If you are arrested you will then be faced with the choice of taking the Breathalyzer at the police station. This test can be used in court. The police should inform you of your rights to take or refuse the breath test via a DR-15 advice of rights form. There are really only three possibilities, pass, fail or refuse.

The breathalyzer test ONLY tests for alcohol. Any other substance will not show up from submitting to the test, so as long as there is no alcohol in your system, take the test and pass!

Unfortunately, if you have any amount of alcohol in your system, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to should I take this test or not. It all depends on the situation.

While a refusal to take a breath test makes it easier to defend yourself against DUI/DWI charges the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) will suspend your license for 270 days for a first offense, or two years for a second offense. As opposed to suspension, you can also chose to participate in the ignition interlock system for a year. Ignition interlock has both installation and monthly monitoring fees.

If you take the test and fail, the MVA will impose a suspension with the length of the suspension depending on the results of the test. If the result of the test is between .08-.14 you are subject to 180-day suspension, which can be modified to allow some necessary driving. If the result is .15 or above, you are subject to 180 day suspension for a first offense, and 270 for a second offense. This can only be modified with ignition interlock.