Do I have to take field sobriety tests?

If you are pulled over and the officer suspects that you may be impaired, you will likely be asked to exit the car and take field sobriety tests. In Maine, you are not required to take field sobriety tests.  The officer will not tell you that you can refuse to take a field sobriety test. If you do not wish to take them, you should politely tell the officer that you are declining to perform the test. But you should be aware that your refusal will likely be admissible at trial, and the officer will probably arrest you based on your refusal and any other indicators of intoxication (for instance, the smell of alcohol, erratic driving, difficulty finding documents, etc.) known to the officer.

Officers in Maine will generally administer the three “standardized” field sobriety tests: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk and Turn Test, and the One Leg Stand Test. If you take field sobriety tests, it is important to listen very carefully to the officer’s instructions. Field sobriety tests do not only challenge your ability to perform the test itself, but also to follow instructions. For instance, in the Walk and Turn Test, drivers are told to stand in a particular position while the officer explains the test. If the driver steps out of the position while the instructions are being given, the officer will count this as a “clue” that the driver is intoxicated.

It is important to remember that field sobriety tests are not a reliable indicator of intoxication. There are many reasons an unimpaired person will “fail” the tests. Health conditions, balance issues, sleepiness, distractions, anxiety, age, weight, and overall dexterity can all play a part. Officers will usually ask you if there is any medical reason why you cannot complete field sobriety tests, but they will generally do so before telling you what the tests are and without telling you what conditions are problematic. Scoring of the field sobriety tests is often tainted by confirmation bias since the officer has already decided that there is at least reasonable suspicion of intoxication. In practice, the tests are not designed to determine if you are intoxicated; they are designed to develop probable cause to support an arrest and assist the State in prosecuting you for OUI.

Although field sobriety tests can be refused, they sometimes end up presenting powerful evidence for the defense. Some departments have video cameras in their cruisers, and videos will frequently contradict the officer’s interpretation of the tests and actually suggest a lack of impairment by the motorist. Whether or not you took a field the field sobriety tests, it is important to hire an attorney who understands how they are administered and how to attack their reliability.

The attorneys at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion have decades of experience in criminal law, including OUI defense. We handle OUI cases in all Maine courts, including those located in Biddeford, York, Springvale, Sanford, York, and Portland.


Tyler J. Smith

Tyler Smith joined Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion as an associate in 2012 and became a partner in 2018. He maintains a general litigation practice, with experience in criminal defense, employment law, appellate advocacy, defamation/slander, civil rights, undue influence, and other civil disputes. He is also experienced in representing professionals before professional licensing boards. In… Read more »