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How Do Breathalyzers and Field Sobriety Tests Affect OWI Arrests?

 Posted on November 09, 2022 in OWI

New Berlin Drunk Driving Defense AttorneyIf you are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, the officer will likely ask you to blow into a portable breathalyzer or take field sobriety tests. These tests are used to determine whether you are impaired and whether you should be arrested and charged with drunk driving. If you are arrested, additional tests may be performed to determine whether you were driving under the influence and whether you should be charged with the offense of operating while intoxicated (OWI). Understand the role that these tests play in OWI cases is important, and you will need to be aware of the consequences you may face for refusing to submit to one or more types of tests.

Roadside Breathalyzer Tests

If you are pulled over by a police officer on suspicion of drunk or intoxicated driving, you may be asked to take a breathalyzer test. This portable breathalyzer test may be used to determine whether you are intoxicated by providing an estimate of the amount of alcohol in your system. The legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) in Wisconsin is 0.08%. If a breathalyzer indicates that your BAC is above this limit, this will give the officer probable cause to arrest you for OWI. 

However, breathalyzer tests are not always accurate. If the machine is not calibrated properly, it may give a false reading. Additionally, other factors, such as mouthwash or acid reflux, can affect the accuracy of the test. You are allowed to refuse a roadside breathalyzer test.

Field Sobriety Tests

In some cases, an officer may ask you to perform one or more field sobriety tests instead of or in addition to a breathalyzer test. There are three types of field sobriety tests that police officers most commonly use: 

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: You will be asked to follow a small object with your eyes. As you do so, the police officer will watch for involuntary eye movements, which may indicate that you are intoxicated. 

  • Walk-and-turn test: The officer will ask you to walk a straight line for nine steps, placing the heel of one foot in front of the toe of the other, turn around on one foot, and then walk in the other direction for nine steps. If you stumble or otherwise fail to follow the officer's instructions, this may provide probable cause to arrest you for OWI.

  • One-leg stand test: You will be asked to stand on one foot with the other foot raised six inches above the ground and count aloud for a specific period of time (usually for 30 seconds). If you lose your balance, put your foot down, or do not complete the officer's instructions, this may be seen as an indication that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Field sobriety tests are meant to give an indication of whether you are impaired. However, they are not always accurate. Factors such as nervousness, injury, age, weight, the shoes you are wearing, and road or weather conditions can affect your performance on these tests. Additionally, officers often make errors when administering these tests. As with roadside breathalyzer tests, you can refuse to take field sobriety tests.

Consequences of Refusing a Test

If an officer asks you to take a roadside breathalyzer test or field sobriety test and you refuse to take the test, this refusal on its own may not be seen as evidence that you are intoxicated. However, your refusal may give an officer probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of intoxicated driving.

Following an arrest, you will typically be asked to submit to chemical testing to determine whether you were driving while intoxicated. You may be asked to give a blood or urine sample that will be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs, or a more reliable breathalyzer machine may be used to test your blood alcohol content. Refusal to submit to a post-arrest chemical test will result in an automatic revocation of your driver's license for one year. If you submit to a chemical test and are found to have a BAC above the legal limit or any amount of illegal drugs in your system, your driver's license will be suspended for six months, and you will most likely also be charged with OWI, which will result in additional penalties if you are convicted of the charges.

Contact Our Waukesha County OWI Defense Attorneys

While breathalyzers and field sobriety tests can play a significant role in OWI arrests in Wisconsin, these tests are not always accurate. If you have been arrested for drunk driving in Wisconsin after taking or refusing a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, you should speak with an attorney about your options as soon as possible. At Bucher, Wolff & Sonderhouse, LLP, we can help you protect your rights and defend against OWI charges. Contact our New Berlin OWI Lawyers to set up a free, confidential consultation and get the legal help you need.



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