Do I have to submit to roadside sobriety tests?

If you had wine with your dinner or drinks with some friends, the sight of flashing lights behind you on the drive home may cause a feeling of panic. You try to play it cool, respond to the officer’s questions with respect and even humor, and cooperate when the officer requests to see your license and car registration.

Then the officer asks you to step out of the car. Perhaps he or she smelled alcohol on your breath. Maybe your eyes are a little glassy or you slipped and mentioned you had a drink earlier in the evening. At any rate, you are now under suspicion of drunk driving, and the next few moments can mean the difference between heading home and riding in the back of a police car.

Do you know your rights?

The state of Wisconsin, like most other states, has an implied consent law. That means that you agreed to consent to a chemical analysis to determine your blood alcohol level if police ever arrest you under suspicion of drunk driving. However, it is important to know exactly what you consented to when you signed your name and received your new license.

For the privilege of driving on Wisconsin roads and highways, you agree to allow police to chemically test for the presence of alcohol after they have arrested you for OWI or OWI. This does not mean you must agree to any preliminary alcohol screening, such as blowing into a hand-held device or submitting to field sobriety tests, such as these standardized tests:

  • Walking and turning heel-to-toe
  • Following the officer’s finger with your eyes
  • Standing on one leg without losing your balance

These roadside tests are subjective and easy to fail, and hand-held breath tests are notoriously inaccurate. You have the right to politely refuse these, but police may arrest you anyway and take you to the station for an evidentiary BAC test. The implied consent law requires you to comply with a police request for one or more samples of your blood, breath or urine.

Because obtaining your license is contingent on this consent, refusal of the test may result in the automatic suspension of your driving privileges. Additionally, if your case goes to trial, the prosecutor will likely inform the jury of your refusal to consent to the lawful test. However, at any time after your arrest, you have the right to legal counsel who will work to protect your rights and help you reach a positive resolution.