Interviewer: How much weight do they actually have in court? Is it something that someone should be concerned about?
Fred Dry: Field sobriety tests do hold weight as DUI evidence in court. However, the outcome will be dependent on the court’s ability to have a clear understanding of how the tests were administered, including the instructions by the police and a truthful description of the driver’s performance. Representation by an experienced and skillful DUI attorney goes a long way in making this happen.
In Chicago, we’re very lucky because most police cars now have video cameras and the court is not left with only the police officers’ description of what happened. The judge can usually look at the video and see what transpires and so they do have a lot of weight in court. They are very persuasive, but often times they demonstrate that people do better on the tests than how the police officer might describe it verbally. If a person comes in and says I did well on the test and explains how they did what the officer asked for, it is much more persuasive when the judge looks at the video. The judge has a much better idea rather than just the defendant’s verbal description compared to the police officer’s description. Courts tend to see the videos in a much more objective way than they take the testimony of either the defendant or the police officer. If they’re videotaped, the Field Sobriety Tests can have great weight in court.
Occasionally DUI Stops May Not be Videotaped Due to Malfunctioning of Video Equipment
Interviewer: Are they always going to be videoed?
Fred Dry: Most times in the areas where I practice, they are now videotaped, but not always. The Illinois State Police are required to have cameras in their cars, but sometimes they malfunction because of mechanical or electrical failures. In those cases generally, the courts give the police latitude if they tried to have their equipment work.
People are Not Obligated to Perform the Field Sobriety Tests in Illinois
Interviewer: Are people obligated to take the field sobriety tests?
Fred Dry: No, they are not obligated to take them. There is no consequence for refusing to take the field sobriety tests other than the officer will testify that you didn’t take them and the prosecutor will argue that you didn’t take them because you knew that you were drunk. But those are arguments that they’ll always pursue in court. There are other reasons for not doing the Field Sobriety Tests. Your lawyer can make sure the court knows and understands those things. Now if you refused, it doesn’t necessarily make the court believe that you knew you were drunk and refused.
There are other explanations. Sometimes people have physical conditions that make it impossible for them to do the Field Sobriety Tests in a competent way. I’ve never heard of a person telling a police officer that they had a problem with something to do with their legs, their knees, or their hips, or their ankle or something else that could affect their performance and the officer adjusted his/her expectations. The police always grade against a standard of perfection without regard to a person’s physical limitations.
A Motorist May Not Perform Well on the Field Sobriety Test Due to a Physical Defect
The police officer will ask you to do the test anyway. But I have never heard any police officer say that they count it as a poor performance based on their understanding of the person’s physical defect. That could be a reason not to take them. If you don’t take them it gives the government less evidence to use against you. The suggestion that you refused because you knew you would fail is easier to defend against than a poor performance. It helps the person’s case when they don’t take them and there is no legal consequence. For instance, by comparison, if you refuse to take the breath test in the station, it’s going to cause your license to be suspended.
Refusing the Field Sobriety Test Has No Particular Consequence on DUI Evidence in Court
The field sobriety tests are similar to the portable breath tests in terms of legal consequences. There are no consequences for refusing the field sobriety tests or the portable breath test. The portable breath test is something the police officer carries in his car, but it can’t be used to prove your guilt or innocence, it can only be used to justify your arrest. There is no legal consequence for refusing a portable breath test. Refusing the field sobriety tests has no legal effect on anything other than the suggestion of why you refused it.