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Can Texas drivers refuse to perform field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | DWI |

If a police officer suspects someone of impaired driving, they may immediately start looking for evidence. Some police officers follow drivers in traffic for long distances hoping to observe them doing something unusual or unsafe. Other police officers ask very pointed questions during traffic stops to force people to implicate themselves.

Officers often try to keep a conversation going until they have the probable cause necessary to arrest someone. Occasionally, police officers may ask people to step out of their vehicles to perform field sobriety tests. Those facing accusations of intoxication while driving typically comply with police officer requests so that they don’t look guilty. They think that performing field sobriety tests can help them prove they can safely drive.

Unfortunately, they may end up putting themselves at increased risk of prosecution for a driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense. By submitting to testing, they may increase their risk of arrest and prosecution.

Field sobriety testing isn’t mandatory

Contrary to what many people believe about traffic stops, police officers have limited authority until they have grounds to arrest someone. They need a valid reason to pull someone over and must abide by limitations on the searches they perform.

There is an implied consent law in Texas that requires people to submit to testing, but there are two limitations on that requirement. The first is that it specifically applies to chemical testing. The second limitation is that officers can only demand a test after they arrest someone.

A police officer needs to have probable cause to believe that a DWI infraction occurred to compel someone to submit to a chemical test. Field sobriety testing is often part of a fishing expedition in which an officer tries to find some evidence to support their suspicions.

Drivers can theoretically decline field sobriety tests in a respectful manner without risking arrest or additional penalties. Motorists who don’t know their rights can make mistakes that end up making them look guilty in court.

Those who know and use their rights can reduce their risk of being subjected to DWI arrests and a conviction post-arrest. Responding appropriately to pending DWI charges can potentially help people to avoid a conviction that could put them at risk of a variety of penalties.

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