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Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in South Carolina?

Can You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in South Carolina?

Under South Carolina law, field sobriety tests or FST’s, are optional for drivers to take. In fact, under S.C. Code § 56-5-2953 specifically states that refusing these tests does not constitute disobeying a police command.

Defining Field Sobriety Tests

In South Carolina police officers are trained in three standardized field sobriety tests to be given according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. Those three tests are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • Walk and Turn
  • One Leg Stand

Because DUI is usually a crime of opinion (meaning the police officer’s best guess), offices use field sobriety test results to make their in-court testimony sound more official and objective.

Three Phases of DUI Investigation

Police officers are taught to think about and record DUI evidence using a system of three phases of DUI investigation. These phases are:

  • Phase One – Vehicle in Motion
  • Phase Two – Personal Contact
  • Phase Three – Pre-arrest screening

Vehicle in motion are things the officer sees while your car is moving. This is things like driving slowly, not dimming headlamps, or swerving across the painted lines. Personal contact includes things like having an odor of alcohol or bloodshot eyes.

Field sobriety tests fall under “pre-arrest screening”. That’s right; police are taught to use these tests before arresting someone. Instead of helping unimpaired drivers avoid an unfair arrest, these tests are designed to bolster and add credibility to the police officer’s testimony in court.

Most Police Officers Don’t Administer Tests Correctly

All police officers nowadays have had at least some training in standardized field sobriety test administration. But for many officers their training may have been years ago at the police academy, and they may be in serious need of a refresher.

In fact most of the time when our DUI lawyers review videotapes of field sobriety tests they find multiple instances per arrest where the police officer incorrectly administers and scores the test. Other tests, such as reciting the alphabet are not standardized, not official, and are even more problematic than the three official ones.

Any reasonable person could find that the risk of having the police officer administer or score a field sobriety test correctly should be serious considered when deciding whether or not to take them.

What Happens If You Refuse

You are 100% legally allowed to refuse field sobriety tests.

Legally, refusing a field sobriety test is not evidence that you are impaired. However if the police officer was already planning on arresting you then they will go ahead and do so.

There is not however any additional penalties, or driver’s license suspension, for refusing a field sobriety tests like there is the breath test.

Obtaining an Aggressive Defense

When you’ve been arrested for DUI you need to know how your choice with regard to giving or refusing field sobriety tests will impact your defense.

Our lawyers know how these tests should be given, and scored, and are prepared to challenge the police officer on any incorrect testing procedures. Additionally since refusing is a guaranteed right under South Carolina law, they are also equally prepared to defend your choice to refuse.


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