You’ve always had the right to decline to participate in standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), like the walk-and-turn or the one-legged stand tests – but should you? Until fairly recently, refusal to participate in SFSTs in Georgia was something that could be presented in court as evidence of your guilt. The prosecutor could allege that anybody who was actually sober would have had no reason to refuse to participate, so you must have declined testing only because you knew you were impaired. That put drivers in a lose-lose situation, far too often.
That’s now changed. In late 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that putting drivers in a position where they have to choose between potentially incriminating themselves and allowing the prosecution to use their refusal to participate as evidence against them is a violation of their Constitutional rights.
Couldn’t you prove you’re sober by participating?
SFSTs are notoriously subjective and unreliable, even under perfectly ideal conditions. You can bet that when you’re anxious and standing at the side of the road with an officer scrutinizing you and traffic rushing by, the situation will feel anything but ideal. Everything from your stress level to the fact that you’re fatigued or not in perfect health can make it harder to pass an SFST.
Plus, here’s the harsh reality: If an officer asks you to submit to field sobriety testing, they already believe you are impaired. That may unintentionally (and negatively) affect their evaluation of your performance. While refusing a standardized field sobriety test can no longer be used against you in court, failing one can be used to justify subsequent chemical testing and an arrest. That means there’s nothing to gain (and a great deal to lose) by agreeing to participate.
Ideally, you’ll never find yourself in a position where this information is needed, but if you are: Politely decline to participate in standardized field sobriety testing knowing that you face no legal penalty for doing so. That could be enough to deter an officer who is just “fishing” to see if you’re impaired. If you do end up under arrest for drunk driving, it’s best to seek legal guidance right away.