California DUI Field Sobriety Tests

When someone has been arrested for driving under the influence, the arresting agency submits a report to the Orange County District Attorney for their review and ultimate filing of charges. It may seem pretty straight forward in that someone has been pulled over, given a test and then determined to be driving under the influence. However, there are five main pieces of evidence that the district attorney is relying upon when determining whether or not to file charges. To follow is an explanation of the evidence, and how it is relied upon, when determining whether or not to file charges against someone who has been arrested for DUI.

1. The police officer’s observation of the accused’s driving: Someone who is driving too slow or too fast, straddling the lines or weaving in the lanes.

2. The police officer’s observations of the accused’s personal symptoms: The odor of alcohol, slurred speech, watery eyes, swaying and/or off-balance.

3. How well the accused performed the field sobriety tests: These tests are designed to determine balance and coordination. Although field sobriety tests are not required, most people don’t know this and comply when asked to perform the roadside field sobriety tests. These tests are difficult to pass, even for a sober person and are subjective. They are based on the officer’s opinion on how well they were performed and thus are unreliable.

4. The statements the accused makes after being pulled over: When the officer asks whether or not the accused has had anything to drink, the response will obviously is evidence.

5. The blood alcohol results: When trying to determine whether or not someone is driving under the influence, there are two “road-side” tests the officer can perform. Neither of which, by the way, is required by law. One is the field sobriety test mentioned above; the other is the roadside Breathalyzer. This is a handheld device used by officers in the field to assist them in determining whether or not to arrest a suspected drunk driver. These tests are also unreliable in that they are not considered 100% accurate.

What most people don’t know is that, both the field sobriety test and the hand-held, roadside Breathalyzer tests can be refused without any legal repercussions. However, In the event that a person refuses to submit to either of these road-side tests, the officers can then make a determination that you are under the influence, arrest you and then require you to take a chemical test of your breath, blood or urine at the station. It should be noted that urine tests are only used when a breath or blood test is unavailable. Law requires the chemical test at the police station, unlike the roadside test, and if refused, the officers can then forcibly take blood to determine whether or not you were driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

There are guidelines that law enforcement personnel must follow when detaining and questioning someone for DUI. It is important to understand that if these strict guidelines are not followed and documented, your attorney may be able to have the charges dismissed.

If you would like to know more about driving under the influence or field sobriety tests, contact Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer William Weinberg at his Irvine, CA office at 949-474-8008 or at