When You Need A Zealous Litigator, Dustin Dow Is Your Trial Attorney

Attorney Dustin Dow

Field sobriety tests and breathalyzers in North Carolina

On Behalf of | Apr 9, 2024 | DUI

Getting pulled over can be a stressful experience, especially if an officer suspects you of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI). In North Carolina, law enforcement has tools at their disposal to assess your sobriety.

These tools fall into two main categories: field sobriety tests (FSTs) and breath tests. What’s the difference between them, and what are your rights when it comes to taking these tests?

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs): A roadside assessment

Field sobriety tests are a series of standardized physical and mental tasks administered by an officer on the side of the road. Common FSTs include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: Checks for involuntary jerking of the eyeballs when following a moving object.
  • The walk-and-turn test: This assesses your ability to follow instructions, divide attention and maintain balance.
  • The one-leg stand test: Evaluates balance and coordination while focusing on a single limb.

While FSTs can provide a general indication of impairment, they are not foolproof. Factors like fatigue, nervousness or certain medical conditions can affect performance.

You have the right to refuse FSTs. There is no penalty for declining these tests. The officer may use your refusal as a factor in determining probable cause for arrest, but it won’t automatically lead to a license suspension. If you’re confident in your sobriety, you might choose to decline. However, some argue that cooperating with these tests, even if you’re nervous, can demonstrate your willingness to comply.

Breath Tests: Chemical analysis for alcohol

Breath tests, also known as chemical tests, analyze your breath for the presence of alcohol. Implied consent laws mean that by operating a vehicle on the roads, you consent to a chemical test if you are arrested for DWI. There are two types:

  • Preliminary breath test (PBT): This is a roadside screening test often used to get a quick indication of alcohol presence.
  • Intoxilyzer (EC/IR-II): This is the more precise breath test administered at the police station.

You have the right to refuse a breath test. However, unlike FSTs, refusing a breath test comes with a penalty. Your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for one year if the officer has probable cause to believe you were impaired. However, if the administration of the test is deemed illegal, refusing the test might be part of your legal defense.

Understanding the difference between FSTs and breath tests and your rights regarding each can be empowering during a DWI traffic stop. Remember, you have the right to remain silent and to consult with a legal team if you’re arrested, regardless of your circumstances.