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What impacts can field sobriety tests have on an OWI case?

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | DUI Questions |

Police officers might suspect someone of operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) offenses due to their perceived poor driving skills or involvement in a crash. Oftentimes, police officers who suspect an OWI offense start looking for evidence to affirm those suspicions. Having a motorist perform field sobriety tests can potentially lead to an officer arresting that motorist.

There are three standardized field sobriety tests that police officers might administer. The walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test are all commonly accepted tests used to gauge someone’s likelihood of chemical impairment.

What role do field sobriety tests potentially play in the average OWI traffic stop?

Tests can give police officers probable cause

In Wisconsin, police officers cannot arrest people based solely on a hunch or an unsubstantiated suspicion. They need clearly articulable evidence of a criminal offense to justify arresting someone. Field sobriety testing can help officers meet the necessary standard for an OWI arrest. While there might be other explanations for someone’s poor performance on field sobriety tests, officers can still use test results to justify arresting someone. Once a police officer has the probable cause necessary to arrest someone, they can also request that a driver perform a chemical breath test.

A refusal to undergo chemical testing when an officer has sufficient probable cause to arrest someone for an OWI is a separate legal infraction. The refusal may constitute a violation of Wisconsin’s implied consent law and could lead to secondary consequences, including an additional license suspension.

Generally, police officers need to administer the three standardized field sobriety tests rather than tests of their own design. They also need to perform the tests carefully to ensure that either their dashboard camera or their body camera captures the driver’s performance on the test. The footage of someone’s field sobriety test results could play a role in their criminal case later.

Drivers may sometimes want to decline field sobriety testing after a request from an officer or warn them in advance about medical challenges that could compromise their performance on those tests. Understanding how field sobriety tests factor into OWI cases may help people better handle the stress of a traffic stop or pending OWI charges.