Field Sobriety Tests in South Carolina

Did you Fail a Field Sobriety Test & Need Legal Advice?

More than a decade ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed and promoted the standardized field sobriety test, a battery of three tests designed to indicate impaired driving. Those tests are:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test
  • The walk-and-turn test
  • The one-leg stand test

Law enforcement agencies train police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement agents to administer these tests in a standardized way when a driver is suspected of driving while impaired. Impairment may refer to intoxication by alcohol or drugs.

The descriptors of these sobriety tests may sound familiar to you if a police officer stopped you, tested you and then charged you with drunk driving. In South Carolina, arresting officers are required to videotape the entire proceedings of a DUI traffic stop, including the field sobriety test. After a DUI arrest anywhere, you should contact the Drennan Law Firm as soon as possible.

We take on tough DUI cases in South Carolina and win. We challenge and beat roadside sobriety test results time and again! Contact our South Carolina DUI lawyers for a FREE consultation.

We Beat Failed Sobriety Tests

Important questions you may discuss at your initial consultation with DUI defense lawyers at our firm include:

  • Did your arresting police officer videotape your field sobriety test battery, as required by law?
  • Did he or she administer the tests properly? Did the officer deviate from the standard protocol in any way?
  • Are these tests, in fact, fair?
  • Might a sober person "fail" any of these tests?

The key to a successful defense in your DUI case may come from any number of facts and factors. A thorough review of all aspects of the case should include a look at every nuance of the field sobriety test battery. Time and again, Drennan Law Firm obtains favorable results in DUI defense cases through a careful overview of the field sobriety test.

How Do Officers Know When a Driver Might be Drunk?

An important point to consider in all drunk driving cases is the reason the officer pulled the vehicle over. Generally, a police officer must have a valid reason, such as a reasonable suspicion to think that a driver was drunk or a traffic offense, in order to pull a vehicle over. Without a valid reason, the stop might be considered unconstitutional.

What are some reasons why a cop might think a person is driving drunk?

Generally, a person who is drunk will follow some common driving patterns. The driver might be driving in an erratic manner. They might fail to obey traffic signals and signs. Drivers who are drunk might speed or drive much slower than the speed limit. Failing to yield or swerving are also signs that a driver is driving under the influence of something.

How can officers check for sobriety during a traffic stop?

Officers can conduct a field sobriety test to determine if someone is likely under the influence during a traffic stop. This is a standardized test that involves specific tests. If you aren't able to complete the tasks in the test, the officer will probably have you take a breath test or another type of chemical test to determine your blood-alcohol concentration.

Is it possible to decline a chemical test?

You can decline to take a chemical test, but doing so isn't without specific penalties due to implied consent. Implied consent means that you agreed to chemical tests when you got your driver's license. Also, the fact that you refused the test can be used in the prosecution's case against you if you go to trial.

Do I Have to Take a Breath Test if I'm Asked to Do So?

There are several different methods that law enforcement officers can use to determine if a person has been drinking and driving. One of the options that is available is the breath test, which is commonly referred to as the Breathalyzer. This test helps to determine what your blood alcohol concentration is at the time of the traffic stop.

Do I have to take a breath test if a law enforcement officer asks me to take one?

You do have the right to refuse a breath test. Before you refuse the breath test, you have to think about the possible consequences of that refusal. When you obtained your driver's license, you became subjected to the concept of implied consent. That means that when you got your license, you implied that you would take a breath test if a law enforcement officer asked you to take the test.

What Happens if I Refuse to Take the Test?

You face the loss of your driver's license if you refuse to take a breath test. Other penalties, such as fines or being incarcerated, might also be possible. In some cases, the fact that you refused to take the test might be used in a criminal case against you. It is sometimes possible for the law enforcement officer to obtain a warrant that would force you to submit to some form of BAC testing, which could include a breath test, a blood test or urinalysis.


If you are facing criminal charges or any penalties for refusing to take a breath test, you should learn about the options that you have for fighting against the charges or penalties.

Weigh Your Options Regarding Breath Test Refusal

The penalties for refusing to take a breath test during a traffic stop for suspicion of drunk driving are serious, but they are the reality that you face if you don't take the breath test. This does bring up an important point.


You do have the right to refuse the breath test; however, you might find that the penalties aren't worth the refusal. If you do refuse the breath test, there is a good chance that the law enforcement officer might be able to get a warrant to obtain the sample. This means that even though you refused, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) percentage will likely be able to be determined anyway.


If you do allow your breath test to proceed, there are still some options that you might have for a defense. We could use factors like how the sample was obtained, how it was processed, the training of the people who handled it, the way the chain of custody was handled and similar points to call the sample's results into question. There is also the possibility of using the metabolism rate of the alcohol into question.


We know that you might be unsure of what options you have at this point. We are here to help you learn about what you can do and how you can handle this situation. It is important that you explore all of the options that you have. You wouldn't want to miss a key component of your defense, so be sure to give yourself enough time to consider all of the options.

Consequences of Refusing a Chemical Test During a Stop

Understanding your rights under the law is important any time you find yourself interacting with law enforcement. While police may not overtly violate your rights, they often attempt to convince you to waive them. This can make the process of working with law enforcement during a traffic stop difficult. While you don't want to seem contentious or combative, you also don't want to waive your rights or get yourself into unnecessary trouble.


The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. That can mean you have the right to refuse a search of your home or your vehicle. During a traffic stop, that can also mean refusing to comply with law enforcement's request for a chemical test to look for alcohol. However, it is important to understand that while law enforcement cannot compel you to perform the test, refusing it will still have consequences.

Driving is a privilege, not a right

Your ability to legally drive a motor vehicle on public roads is not a protected right. Instead, it is a privilege reserved for those who demonstrate an understanding of traffic laws and proper control of a motor vehicle during licensing testing. Those who secure a license must continue to comply with state traffic laws in order to maintain that license and the ability to legally drive.


Drunk or impaired driving remains a major source of property damage, personal injury and even death in South Carolina and across the country. Law enforcement may take steps to protect the public from impaired drivers, including performing traffic stops when a driver appears to drive poorly. If that driver fails a field sobriety test, the officer will likely request a breath test to check for alcohol. Refusing will likely result in arrest and the suspension of your license.

All South Carolina drivers have given implied consent

The law in South Carolina on chemical testing is quite clear. Anyone who operates a vehicle on roads within the state has already given implied consent to chemical testing of breath, blood and/or urine for alcohol and other drugs that cause impairment. The law does not compel drivers to provide a sample, but instead creates a penalty for refusing. Most cases result in a six month suspension for the driver's license. He or she may end the suspension early by agreeing to participate in the state's Ignition Interlock Device Program.


It's also important to understand that law enforcement can use your refusal to submit to testing as evidence in any criminal proceedings regarding impaired driving from that traffic stop. While refusing may prevent the state from gathering chemical evidence, it won't necessarily protect you from a conviction.

Not All Breath Test Results are What They Seem

Certain everyday items can lead a person to have a high blood alcohol concentration percentage during a breath test. Cough drops and mouthwash were two of these items.


If you are facing a drunk driving charge because of an incorrect breath test result, we can help you battle the charge. It is important for you to clearly state what you had placed in your mouth before the test. If you brushed your teeth and then used a mouthwash, be sure you know the name of the mouthwash so that this information can be included in your case. The same is true if you used cough drops or any other item that could have impacted your breath test.


You might be surprised by some of the factors that can affect the BAC result provided by a breath test machine. Some of the factors that we consider include the presence of dentures, the Tyndall effect and gastric reflex conditions. We know that not all high BAC results are what they seem.


Drunk driving charges can impact your life. You might be dealing with a suspended driver's license. This can mean that you aren't able to do things that you need to do to survive. You might not be able to get work or doctor appointments. Even going to get groceries can be difficult.


We can help you fight against the drunk driving charges, as well as the administrative penalties that you are facing. Be sure to get started on your defense early because there are certain situations revolving around a drunk driving charge that might have strict time limits.

Can I Challenge a Blood Test?

Whether through the use of blood or breath, the legitimacy of testing has often been called into question. The accuracy of the results, the efficiency of the apparatus itself and the training of the law enforcement officer have all been scrutinized.


On the surface, it would seem that chemical testing on an individual's blood is iron-clad. Upon a positive result, law enforcement has now built a strong case proving that a driver was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Fortunately, there are ways to challenge a blood test.


Typically, there are three ways an experienced attorney can challenge the results of a chemical test.


  • Challenge the individual who administered the test. Whether challenging training methods, steps taken during the testing or the administers general competency, examining the human element in testing is typically the first step in criminal defense.
  • Challenge the equipment used. This sensitive equipment must be cleaned, stored properly and calibrated between each use. If the equipment is not properly cared for, the results can be inaccurate.
  • Challenge the chain of custody. It is a phrase often used in police procedurals on television or in movies, but the chain of custody represents an accurate recording of all of the people who have come into contact with evidence. A blood sample, for example, changes possession several times during the course of an investigation. Any breaks in the chain can represent mishandling and contamination of evidence.

If you were arrested or charged with DUI, it is wise to select a skilled legal professional to fight on your behalf.

Contact Us For a Free Consultation

Drennan Law Firm serves clients in Charleston and across the region. Field sobriety test? Our lawyers beat supposedly "failed" test results in court, time and again. Contact us to schedule a no-obligation consultation regarding your drunk driving case.