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Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Indiana?  

Yes, you can refuse a field sobriety test in Indiana without legal repercussion. However, under the implied consent laws in Indiana, the refusal to submit to a certified chemical test will result in the suspension of your Indiana Driver’s License. Given the importance of your driving privileges, it’s important to understand the laws governing DUI investigations in Indiana and the potential consequences for certain acts of non-compliance.  

The Indiana DUI defense attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP understand Indiana’s drunk driving laws inside and out and are available to assist Hoosiers facing criminal charges. Our drunk driving defense team is led by two former Fatal Alcohol Crash (FACT) prosecutors who leverage their past experience to provide clients with dynamic and effective DUI defense strategies. That said, if you’re hope to secure the optimal outcome in case against you – whether that be a reduction of charges, minimizing of penalties, or the dismissal of your case altogether – you’ll want to contact one of our Indianapolis attorneys today by calling 317-857-0160 or using our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. 

Drunk Driving in Indiana

What is a Field Sobriety Test?  

When police pull over a person who they suspect is drunk driving in Indiana, they’ll employ a handful of investigative techniques to determine whether there’s probable cause to believe that the person has been operating the motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Typically, they’ll first evaluate the conversation they’re having with the suspect, considering factors like their answers to simple questions or the slurring of their speech. Next, they’ll use their sense of smell to evaluate whether they detect the odor of a drug (like cannabis) or alcohol on the person. Based on these initial evaluations, the police officer will then decide whether to administer a Standardized Field Sobriety Test.  

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are a series of tests used by law enforcement officers to determine if a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs. There are a variety of FSTs, but three tests are commonly used and standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States: 

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: 

  • Procedure: The officer asks the subject to follow a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight with their eyes only. As the eyes follow the object, the officer looks for signs of nystagmus (involuntary jerking of the eye). This jerking becomes exaggerated when a person is impaired. 
  • Indicators of Impairment: The officer looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. 

Walk-and-Turn Test: 

  • Procedure: This is a “divided attention” test that requires the subject to listen to and follow instructions while performing physical movements. The subject is instructed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. 
  • Indicators of Impairment: Indicators include inability to keep balance while listening to the instructions, starting before the instructions are finished, stopping while walking to regain balance, not touching heel-to-toe, stepping off the line, using arms to balance, making an improper turn, or taking an incorrect number of steps. 

One-Leg Stand Test: 

  • Procedure: In this test, the subject is asked to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. 
  • Indicators of Impairment: Indicators include swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down. 

The SFSTs described above are designed to assess balance, coordination, and the ability of a person to divide their attention between multiple tasks. The results of these tests, along with other observations (such as the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, etc.), are used by law enforcement to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest in Indiana. 

It’s important to note that field sobriety tests are not always conclusive and can be influenced by various factors such as medical conditions, nervousness, age, weight, or footwear. The accuracy and interpretation of these tests can be a point of contention in legal cases involving DUI charges. 

In addition to these standardized tests, officers may use other non-standardized tests, such as asking a person to recite the alphabet, do finger-to-nose tests, or count backwards. However, the reliability of these non-standardized tests is generally considered lower than the standardized ones. 

Remember, the DUI laws and procedures can vary by location, so the application and legality of these tests may differ in different jurisdictions. If you have specific questions about the drunk driving laws in Indiana, do not hesitate to contact our firm at 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. 

The Decision to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Indiana 

In contrast to refusing a breath test, you can refuse a field sobriety test in Indiana without the risk of direct legal consequence. However, it’s quite common for law enforcement to act as if you have no choice in the matter, and that you must perform the tests. In situations like these, when you do not wish to take the field sobriety test, you may simply and politely inform the officer that you are uncomfortable performing the tests and that they are not able to compel you to do so.  

That said, just because you refuse to take the field sobriety test doesn’t mean the DUI stop is over. In fact, those who refuse to perform the tests are often offered a certified chemical test instead. And while a person can refuse this test as well, it’s often not advisable. Under Indiana’s implied consent law in Indiana Code 9-30-6, a person who refuses a certified chemical test will automatically have their driver’s license suspended. On top of that, they may still be compelled, via search warrant, to submit to the test and later charged with a DUI in Indiana.  

Ultimately, the decision to refuse a field sobriety test in Indiana is completely up to you. If you choose to take the test and the officer believes your performance included one or more impairment indicators, they may ask you to submit to a certified chemical test and/or arrest you for drunk driving in Indiana. Also, later when the case is being decided in court, the officer will likely testify about your performance during the field sobriety test to assist the prosecution. On the other hand, if you refuse the test, the outcome could, generally, be the same. In fact, the officer may even testify in court about your refusal to take the test. Given the situation’s context, this could negatively impact the Court’s decision in the matter.  

Defense Strategies Involving Field Sobriety Tests 

Depending on the circumstances of how and when the field sobriety test was administered, an experienced and effective Indiana DUI defense attorney could use the test as part of a defense strategy. Typically, these types of defense strategies highlight certain limitations and/or potential inaccuracies of SFSTs.  

Challenging Test Conditions 

When a field sobriety test is used as the primary piece of evidence in a DUI case, the defense team may attempt to argue that the testing area was not level or suitable for a SFST, especially for tests like the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn, where balance is crucial.  

Questioning the Officer’s Instructions or Lack of Knowledge 

Another common defense strategy aimed at discrediting the results of a field sobriety test is calling the officer’s instructions or knowledge into question. For example, if the officer failed to give clear and thorough instructions and did not properly demonstrate the tests, the SFST could be rendered invalid. Additionally, an Indiana DUI lawyer could also argue that the officer did not administer the test according to the guidelines set forth by the NHTSA or was not properly trained in how to interpret the results of the tests.  

Citing Innocent Reasons for Poor Performance 

In some situations, a defense attorney may argue that one or more innocent factors impacted the defendant’s performance on the SFST. These factors could include fatigue, nervousness, natural lack of coordination, etc. They may also choose to highlight any relevant physical or medical conditions the defendant may possess, like inner ear infections, neurological disorders, or past injuries that may have led to a false positive test.  

Pointing Out Inherent Flaws in the Test 

Finally, an Indiana criminal defense attorney may challenge the reliability of SFSTs, especially considering that some studies have shown that SFSTs are not always accurate indicators of intoxication. For instance, Burns and Moskowitz’ 1977 study “Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest” showed that officers made arrest errors in, generally, 31% of situations.  

Charged with a DUI in Indiana? Contact our Firm Today 

When you’ve been arrested and/or charged with drunk driving in Indiana, your finances, freedom, and reputation are at risk. Given this, you’ll need to secure skilled and experienced legal representation. Ideally, you’ll want to hire a drunk driving defense attorney who is aware of the many intricacies of Indiana DUI laws and is willing to fight tirelessly to protect your personal rights and freedoms. 

Keffer Hirschauer LLP employs a team of experienced litigators who have received numerous accolades for their DUI defense services. On top of that, our firm is led by two former deputy prosecutors, Bradley Keffer and Tom F. Hirschauer III, both of whom are members of the National College of DUI Defense, and former Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (FACT) prosecutors

Regardless of the situation, you can rest assured that the Indiana criminal defense lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP stand ready to aggressively pursue the best possible resolution in the case against you. We fully understand the gravity of what’s at stake for you and will work tirelessly in your defense.  To speak with an attorney from our firm today, call 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. 

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Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Indiana?
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Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Indiana?
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This article addresses the common question, "can you refuse a field sobriety test in Indiana?"
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Keffer Hirschauer LLP

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