Sobriety tests voluntary?

Updated: May 31

All field sobriety tests are voluntary but refusal of the preliminary breath screen usually leads to arrest.

Well, it’s water under the bridge now, but consenting to field sobriety tests, or, SFSTs at the scene is voluntary. Officers will request consent to perform each of a battery of said tests individually, typically beginning with the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one leg stand. Once an OWI investigation target refuses each of those in turn, the test administrator will request a preliminary breath test, or, PBT. The PBT is a field test that requests a breath sample but the PBT test result is not admissible to show guilt before the jury.

The law in Iowa requires that an officer have reasonable grounds to request a PBT but by the time the test administrator has gotten this far, it’s a foregone conclusion they believe they have such reasonable grounds.

Regardless of whether a test subject complies with a law enforcement request to submit to SFSTs, the test administrator may invoke implied consent where there is an accident. Pursuant to Iowa Code 321J.6, a law enforcement officer may invoke implied consent to request a bodily sample of breath, blood, or urine, at their discretion, when a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe the test subject was operating while under the influence and any of the following are true:

a. A peace officer has lawfully placed the person under arrest for violation of section 321J.2.

b. The person has been involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in personal injury or death.

c. The person has refused to take a preliminary breath screening test provided by this chapter.

Compliance with unreliable SFSTs other than the PBT merely provides an opportunity for a false positive and adds to purportedly reasonable grounds. However, be advised that refusal to perform SFSTs will also be touted as evidence of guilt. So it was a difficult personal decision.

Most people are frustrated that they are either damned if they do or if they do not submit to standardized field sobriety tests, the PBT, and, ultimately, the Datamaster DMT. They have a sneaking suspicion the system is rigged against them and it is a foregone conclusion that they either will be arrested regardless of whether they perform the tests or they are already under arrest and complying will simply provide ammunition to the officer to justify his or her decision to fill an OWI (DUI) quota for the evening.

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 us a free initial consultation.

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