What to do if a California officer asks you to exit your vehicle

Summer is in full swing, and you’ve been enjoying some down time, perhaps attending a concert or two, going to the beach, or getting together with friends for a backyard barbecue. These types of activities often include alcohol consumption, which isn’t necessarily a problem but might be if you drink then get behind the wheel of a car to drive.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime in California and all other states. The easiest way to avoid an arrest, of course, is to abstain from alcohol if you plan to drive. That doesn’t guarantee anything, however, because there have been many incidents where perfectly sober people have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. If a police officer pulls you over and asks you to get out of your car, you can bet he or she thinks you’ve been drinking.

Field sobriety tests

In California and most other states, police typically use three field sobriety tests to determine if they have probable cause to make a DUI arrest. When you step out of your car, the officer at hand might ask you to submit to a walk-and-turn test, a one-leg stand test or a horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

The trouble with such tests is that they are often difficult to perform well, even if you’re not intoxicated. They also tend to be unreliable. For instance, perhaps you’ve always been clumsy on your feet. During a walk-and-turn test, if you falter, the officer observing you might consider that a sign of possible intoxication.

Legal obligations

When it comes to field sobriety tests, you do not have to comply. You may politely and respectfully refuse to take the test. Police can’t arrest you for refusing. In fact, there are absolutely no administrative penalties for refusal.

If you later face DUI charges, however, you should know that prosecutors often use the fact that someone refused a field sobriety test against him or her in court. In other words, they know how to use such information to their advantage.

Best course of action

You may think it’s better to cooperate as best you can when a police officer who has pulled you over in traffic has asked you to step out of your car and take a field test. The choice is yours. What’s most important is that you understand your rights and also where to seek support to help you protect them.