In an OWI (DUI) prosecution in Iowa, the arresting officer will use outward signs of consumption to justify a request to conduct standardized field sobriety tests, or, SFSTs.  If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact DAC-LAW PLC for a free initial consultation at 319-389-4276 or Contact Us

Can Officer Friendly Ask for Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Merely Because of the Odor of Alcohol?



Standardized field sobriety tests are technically voluntary. But the officer will dangle both the carrot and the stick before a test subject to gain compliance. Here’s how.

If an officer believes that a motorist is exhibiting the outward signs of having consumed alcohol, with concomitant suspicion that they might be intoxicated, the officer might request a motorist participate in voluntary standardized field sobriety tests with the promise of “getting you back on the road real quick” if you are “safe to drive” or similar. These initial signs are odor of alcohol or marijuana, slurred or thick tongued speech, fumbling with a wallet when asked to produce license, registration, and proof of insurance (an acknowledged divided attention test), and presence of contraband like open containers, controlled substances, or paraphernalia.

The veiled promise by the officer is that if you “pass” the field sobriety tests, you might be released if we’re only talking about the odor of alcohol or mere suspicion of intoxication with signs of consumption. How frequently this occurs is a bit of a mystery because criminal defense attorneys hear only of the arrests and prosecution of OWI (DUI) cases in the State of Iowa. No one calls a criminal lawyer to get representation on having been released from the scene of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). Whew, a motorst thinks, dodged a bullet there.

In any case, when an officer “requests” that a motorist cooperate with SFSTs, they will typically ask the motorist to “step out of the car” and come back to the patrol car or other relatively safe location out of the traffic area to administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn (WAT), and the One Leg Stand. Each of these tests is voluntary and the test administrator will “lean” on the test subject to conduct each of these tests individually until the officer decides that the test subject will be asked to provide a preliminary breath test (PBT) sample in a device the officer keeps with him or her in the patrol car. Suggesting that one is uncomfortable performing tests where there are known false positives is a theoretical dodge in which few if anyone engages when asked by the officer to comply. Suffice it to say by the time someone is reading this, they have either performed or refused to perform SFSTs and an arrest has already occurred.

Nevertheless, the first three physical agility and divided attention tests (HGN, WAT, OLS) are more or less voluntary. If you decline the invitation, the officer will push back verbally and ultimately request a PBT. If the motorist refuses a PBT, however, the officer will claim reasonable grounds existed before the PBT and that a refusal automatically triggers implied consent to return to the stationhouse for the more reliable Datamaster DMT breath test. The PBT test result is not admissible before the jury because it is part of field testing and is generalized considered to be an unreliable test and, more importantly, because the Iowa Legislature outlawed the use of the PBT test results. The Iowa Supreme Court has also held that the PBT cannot be used to testify to the jury that there was even the presence of alcohol in the breath sample. However, it can be used to establish reasonable grounds to invoke implied consent before a pretrial judge at suppression hearing.

Once at the station house, the officer will read to the test subject the implied consent advisory necessary to notice the consequences of test failure or refusal. At that point, the test subject will have to decide whether to risk the Datamaster DMT test or be comfortable with the refusal—which can be considered in jury deliberations if it gets that far.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Iowa, contact DAC-LAW PLC today. Don’t delay. However, a blog is not legal advice. Sending unsolicited information to an attorney does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
Regardless, if you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Linn, Johnson, Blackhawk, or other Iowa communities or counties, contact DAC-LAW PLC for a free initial consultation at 319-389-4276 or