Tangaro Law | Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer

Should I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test In Utah?

As a Utah DUI Defense Attorney, I am often asked if a person should refuse to take the Field Sobriety Tests (FST). Because Field Sobriety Tests in Utah are not mandatory it is a very good question. So let me give you some facts that will help you make up your mind.

testsUtah DUI Laws allow for 4 Field Sobriety Tests

The first 3 field sobriety tests have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA has formulated particular procedures for officers to follow when administrating these tests.

9 Step Walk and Turn –  Or the old walk a straight line test. In this test the person is asked to walk heel to toe in a straight line for nine steps and then turn on one foot and repeat the 9 steps heel to toe.

The NHTSA, studies have revealed the walk and turn test to be 68% accurate in determining whether a driver has a blood alcohol concentration sufficient enough for arrest.

This test is left up to the police officer’s judgement as to how well you did. More often than not officers administer the 9 step walk and turn incorrectly.

One-Leg Stand – This is a divided attention test. Your attention is divided between the officer’s instructions and your attention on performing the tasks. The officer instructs the suspected DUI driver to stand on one foot, hands to their side, then raise the other foot up about 6 inches and count by 1000 until instructed to put their foot down.

Although the NHTSA has set out exact methods officers should use and clues to watch for when administrating the one-leg stand test, officers frequently administer the tests incorrectly. They can also misjudge the clues.

Again studies by the NHTSA have revealed the one-leg stand test to be only 65% accurate.

Horizontal Gaze TestOr the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. This test watches for the involuntary jerking (nystagmus) of the eye in a person that is intoxicated. It involves following an object with your eyes to determine jerking movements (nystagmus).

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), studies show a 77% reliable rate in determining whether a driver has a  blood alcohol content (BAC ) above the legal level of .08%

Portable Breath Test – Although the field Portable Breath Test (PBT) is not approved by the NHTSA, (PBT) is approved as a Field Sobriety Test in Utah. The test estimates an individuals (BAC) indirectly by measuring the amount of alcohol in one’s breath.

The PBT is hand held mobile breathalyzer test as opposed to a breath test taken at the police station once you have been arrested. The units are small, inexpensive versions of the larger, more sophisticated instruments at the police stations. Each unit is also different in how they operate,  bringing the accuracy of the PBT into question.

Field Sobriety Tests Lean Towards Failure

It is not uncommon for sober people to fail the Utah field sobriety tests. The tests are easily affected by:

Time of Day: A person may be tired or the lighting is not sufficient enough for the suspect to perform the tests.

Clothing: Clothing can often inhibit a person from adequately performing these tests. Imagine doing the 9 step walk and turn in 6 in. heels.

Skill and Balance: Performing these tests is more of a test of co-ordination and balance.

Physical or Mental Impairments: Weight, age and back problems are only a few impairments that can affect your ability to pass field tests. Also individuals suffering form mental disabilities can have difficulty in passing these tests.

Should You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Utah?

Refusing to take a FST does not have any legal penalties in the state of Utah. Politely refusing to take the tests is a valid option.

  • Keep in mind that when the officer asks you to take a field sobriety test he has mostly likely already made up his mind to arrest you. The police officers judgement factored is always a factor in the failure rate of the tests.
  • Your refusal may give the police cause to think you are hiding something and arrest you for DUI anyway.
  • The prosecutor my also use your refusal as an indicator that your were hiding something.

Generally, it is recommended that one should always (politely) refuse taking any field sobriety test when requested by an officer.

Once you have been arrested you are required by the Utah Implied Consent Law to take a Chemical test.

Certainly, Field Sobriety Tests in Utah are subject to human error on both the part of the police officer and a DUI suspect. If you have submitted to a field sobriety test it’s not too late. There are many ways to defend yourself against a failed field sobriety test in court. And if you have refused a FST, obviously you will need to seek legal council.

Exercise your rights to hire a Utah DUI Attorney.

Call me, I can help.


Cara Tangaro, Utah DUI Defense Lawyer

I represent clients arrested for DUI in Utah,  from Logan to St. George – from Park City to Moab – from Provo to Ogden.