Refusing a Sobriety or Chemical Test in North Carolina


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North Carolina has strict guidelines pertaining to drinking and driving. Individuals who are convicted of this offense can face significant penalties, including jail time, expensive fines and a prolonged loss of driving privileges. Additionally, a person may acquire a criminal history which can interfere with job opportunities, a professional reputation, social standing, living arrangements and other aspects of a personís life.

To combat these potential consequences, some drivers make the decision to refuse a sobriety test or chemical test. They may reason that these tests are only designed to provide evidence against them and if they refuse, the government will not have evidence to use against them. However, a criminal defense lawyer can explain the potential consequences that a person faces for refusing to comply with these tests. Whether a person is facing DWI charges or consequences for not complying with the implied consent law, a criminal defense lawyer can provide important legal counsel.

Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests help gauge whether a motorist is impaired because of alcohol. The tests consider whether the motoristís cognitive or physical function is compromised and the extent of the individualís impairment. Law enforcement officers use the results of these tests as evidence in criminal proceedings against drivers in DWI cases.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that three standardized tests are scientifically validated. They include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

This test measures involuntary eye movements. Horizontal gaze nystagmus refers to the involuntary jerking of the eye when eyes move to the size. When a person is impaired by alcohol, the rate of movement is more quickly and this reaction may occur at smaller angles, which makes it difficult for a defendant to horizontally track a moving object. The law enforcement officer administers this test by moving an object like a pen or flashlight in front of the defendantís eyes and asks him or her to track it.

One Leg Stand Test

For this test, the defendant is asked to stand on one leg while having the other foot in the air about six inches from the ground. The defendant must count to 30 and maintain balance during this time. The defendant is considered impaired under this test if he or she loses balance, uses his or her arms to stay balanced, hops or puts the foot down.

Walk and Turn Test

The third test consists of walking heel to toe on a straight line. After taking nine steps, the defendant turns on one foot and returns to the starting point, walking in the same manner. This test measures balance and coordination, along with the ability to follow instructions while having attention divided.

Refusing Field Sobriety Tests

Under North Carolina law, a defendant cannot be forced to perform a field sobriety test. He or she does not face the same consequences for this refusal as he or she does by refusing a chemical test after a DWI arrest under the implied consent law. However, North Carolina law does permit a defendantís refusal to take a field sobriety test to be used as evidence against him or her in a criminal case, civil trial or administrative hearing.

Additionally, law enforcement may combine their observations related to a particular defendantís impairment and the refusal to perform these tests to arrest the defendant immediately for suspicion of DWI or to justify the need to chemically test the defendant.

Consequences of Refusing a Chemical Test

Unlike the consequences of refusing a field sobriety test, a person can face immediate penalties for refusing a chemical test. Even if a person is not drunk, he or she can face significant penalties merely for the refusal. A person who refuses a chemical defense faces an immediate license suspension for 30 days. After this period of time, the defendant will have an opportunity to request a hearing pertaining specifically to the loss of his or her driving privileges. If he or she loses at this administrative level, he or she stands to lose driving privileges for one year. A defendant may request limited driving privileges to go to work or school after six months.

Contact a North Carolina DWI Lawyer

If you are facing criminal charges for DWI, it is important that you contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer who can provide you with a defense to the charges you are facing. He or she can analyze the circumstances surrounding your arrest and your DWI investigation to determine if there are grounds to have the charges dismissed against you.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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