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What you Need to Know about Field Sobriety Tests and Chemical Tests When Stopped and Arrested for an OWI in Michigan

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Being charged for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OWI) in Michigan may cause serious legal repercussions. Not only will you have to face criminal charges, but you will also have to deal with Secretary of State administrative hearings. 

Before a police officer can charge you with an OWI, he or she must first establish probable cause to arrest you for such a crime. The main way law enforcement establishes probable cause is by conducting field sobriety tests. The physical evidence taken from such tests will permit an officer to arrest you and take you into custody for further investigation.

Read on to learn more about field sobriety tests and chemical test used by law enforcement officials throughout Washtenaw County.

The Vehicle Stop

When an officer pulls you over for the suspicion of driving under the influence in Ann Arbor, he or she will generally ask you a routine series of questions. For instance, the officer may ask if you have had any alcohol to drink within the past few hours.

If you answer affirmatively, the officer may ask you to step out of your vehicle to perform a series of field sobriety tests.

Field Sobriety Tests

A field sobriety test consists of a series of physical and mental exercises. For instance, a police officer may request that you walk in a straight line while looking forward. Generally, there are four field sobriety tests that may be administered:

1. The Walk-and-Turn Test

The police officer will instruct you to walk nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion in a straight line. After you take the ninth step, you will have to turn around on one foot and return in the opposite direction in a heel-to-toe fashion.

2.  One-Leg Stand Test

For the one-leg stand test, the police officer will ask you to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground with your toe pointed. You must maintain your balance while you count to a designated number.

3The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Nystagmus is the technical term for involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball. When administering this test, the police officer will ask you to look at a pen or their finger as they move it from one side to another while observing your eye movements. If there is a jerking movement in your eye before your gaze reaches a 45-degree angle, then this will indicate a possible BAC level over .05%.

4. Preliminary Breath Test

A preliminary breathalyzer (otherwise known as a PBT) is used to determine your BAC level on the street. The police officer will request that you blow into the portable device to determine your current BAC level around the time of operating or driving the vehicle. If your BAC is over .08%, the police officer will arrest and take you into custody for further investigation.  Refusing to take the PBT is a civil infraction in Michigan.

Do not feel pressured into performing a field sobriety test. You are not required to submit to any field sobriety tests. You have the right to tell the police officer that you do not want to participate without further explanation. However, the officer may be able to establish some other evidence that shows you were intoxicated while driving and request that you take a mandatory breathalyzer or chemical test down at the station after arresting you.

Chemical Test at the Police Station

If you are taken to the police station, you will have to take a chemical test. The chemical test will consist of a blood, breath, or urine sample. The test will be used to determine your BAC. If your BAC is above .08%, you will be charged with a OWI.

Common Errors that Arise with Field Sobriety and Chemical Tests

Not all field sobriety and chemical tests produce accurate results. For instance, if a police officer does not follow the approved methods in administering the field sobriety tests, then the results may be suppressed as evidence. Further, an officer may say you failed the test based on their personal and subjective observations, but a video recording of the test may actually show that you passed.

Additionally, even if the officer did administer the chemical test properly, if any of the equipment was not properly maintained or calibrated, then the test results will be unreliable and inadmissible as evidence against you.

Contact Washtenaw County drunk driving attorney Stacey Washington for a case evaluation if you have been arrested and charged for an OWI.


Standardized Field Sobriety Testing


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