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BalduchiLaw Office, PC Sept. 22, 2023

Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test? And Should You?

Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) or under the influence of drugs or alcohol is prohibited in Iowa. On suspicion of impaired or drunk driving, the police can stop your vehicle and ask you to take a field sobriety test, among other DUI tests. Understanding your rights with a field sobriety test is imperative to know what to do when pulled over for DUI and ensure that you do not implicate yourself inadvertently. 

Balduchi Law Office, PC, is dedicated to offering comprehensive representation and reliable legal guidance to clients in their DUI cases. The highly-skilled Iowa criminal defense attorneys at the firm can enlighten you about the types, benefits, and downsides of refusing a field sobriety test. Even when charged with OWI/DUI, Attorney Kent Balduchi and his trusted team will craft a solid defense strategy to fight your accusations and keep your record clean. The firm proudly serves clients across Des Moines, Polk County, and surrounding counties throughout Iowa. 

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests (FST)

Field sobriety tests (FST) involve various standardized tests that are used by law enforcement officers to determine whether a driver suspected of drunk driving is intoxicated or sober. There are three types of field sobriety tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These include: 

The Walk-and-Turn Test 

In the walk-and-turn test, the police will ask the alleged drunk driver to take nine steps in a straight line in a heel-to-toe manner. Once completed, the driver will turn around on one foot and go back to the position they started from – in a similar heel-to-toe style. 

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

In the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the police officer will hold an object in front of the alleged drunk driver and ask them to follow it from side to side using their eye – with their head held still. The officer will observe for bouncing or jerking eye movements to determine if the driver is intoxicated. 

The One-Leg Stand test

The one-leg stand test involves standing on one foot at a height of about six inches above the ground. While the driver's leg is raised, the police officer will ask you to count numbers from 1,001 upwards – for about 30 seconds. The police officer will observe your ability to handle both physical (the act of balancing) and mental (the process of counting) tasks to determine if you're intoxicated. 

However, field sobriety tests are usually subjective and not always accurate indicators of intoxication. In fact, field sobriety tests are voluntary in the state of Iowa. You have the right to refuse the FSTs, and there are no consequences of refusal. 

Your Rights during a Traffic Stop in Iowa

Here are some of your rights when you're pulled over by the police in Iowa for alleged drunk driving: 

  • You have the right to not incriminate yourself. 

  • You have the right against unlawful search and seizure

  • You have a right to obtain a copy of the police report. 

  • You have a right to refuse to take field sobriety tests. 

  • You have the right to refuse the preliminary or portable breath test. 

  • You have a right to contact an attorney. 

However, while you can refuse a field sobriety test or portable breath test, you must take the blood or breath test if you're lawfully arrested. Under Iowa's implied consent law, any driver in the state agrees to have a breath, blood, or urine test to determine alcohol level or presence of drugs anytime a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that they're operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Refusing a Field Sobriety Test in Iowa

As mentioned earlier, field sobriety tests are voluntary in Iowa, and you can refuse them without facing any penalties or consequences. Conversely, chemical tests – blood and breath tests – are mandatory. Refusing a chemical test may result in automatic license suspension and other administrative punishments. 

Pros and Cons of Refusing a Field Sobriety Test

Here are some pros and cons of refusing a field sobriety test: 


  • It helps you avoid potentially unreliable evidence. 

  • The officer will be unable to back up their suspicion. 

  • If you perform poorly, the officer can fail you. Conversely, you can't fail the FST if you didn't even take it. 


  • There is an increased possibility of an arrest. 

  • The police officer may arrest you and perform chemical tests at the station. 

  • You may have to go through the DUI court or legal process. 

  • The prosecutor may use your decision to refuse the FST to incriminate you. 

Regardless, you should refuse the field sobriety tests politely and firmly. An experienced attorney can represent you diligently in your case and help protect your rights. 

Legal Guidance You Can Trust

Facing drunk driving allegations can be frightening. However, having skilled representation and knowing your rights when pulled over for DUI/OWI can help you manage your case diligently. Attorney Kent Balduchi and his team are committed to protecting individuals arrested for drunk driving from the worst possible situation. As your legal counsel, they will fight vigorously to uphold your rights, dispute the accusations against you with factual evidence, and improve your chances of a brighter tomorrow. 

Contact Balduchi Law Office, PC, today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with practiced DUI/OWI defense lawyers. Attorney Kent Balduchi and his reliable team can offer you the skilled advocacy and dedicated guidance you need in your drunk driving case. The firm proudly serves clients across Des Moines, Polk County, and surrounding counties throughout Iowa. 


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