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Do drivers have to take field sobriety tests in South Carolina?

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2021 | Drunk Driving Charges

You’re driving home after a night out with some close friends. You had a couple of drinks, but you’re confident in your ability to drive safely. You’re well on your way when suddenly the car in front of you slams on their brakes. You immediately brake and you quickly switch lanes to avoid a crash.

As your heart calms back down from the near-collision, you see red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror. There’s a police officer behind you, and you are being pulled over.

What if the officer on the scene suspects drunk driving?

The officer comes to your window and asks for your license and registration. You hand over the documents and explain what just happened. After speaking with you a moment, the officer mentions smelling alcohol and asks if you’ve had anything to drink. You honestly say that you had two, but it was hours ago. The officer now wants you to take a few field sobriety tests to check for impairment.

You are immediately hesitant to take the tests, but you aren’t sure if you have to submit.

What does South Carolina law say on the subject?

South Carolina statutes have a clear answer and it’s something many people don’t know: you have the right to refuse to participate in a field sobriety test no matter how insistently the officer asks or how many times he requests it.

A driver can voluntarily submit to field sobriety testing, but he needs to do so with extreme caution: any evidence gathered from those tests – or in the officer’s interpretation of the results – could be used as probable cause for an arrest.

What are the recognized field sobriety tests?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes only three standardized field sobriety tests. They are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus: this test checks for involuntary jerking of the eye as the officer directs the driver to follow a finger or pen
  • One-legged stand: the driver must balance on one foot for a set time without swaying, falling, hopping, putting the foot down, or using arms for correction
  • Walk-and-turn: the driver must walk a straight line, pivot and return down the same line; the test checks the ability to balance and to follow directions

If you do choose to participate in testing that leads to arrest, don’t lose hope. It may be possible that the police didn’t follow proper procedure, or that you failed a test for an innocent reason (like a medical condition). Your defense attorney may be able to challenge the admissibility of the test results and get charges against you lowered or dropped.

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