When a Maryland police officer pulls you over in a traffic stop, you can never predict how the situation will unfold. Sometimes, the officer in question might simply inform you that you have a brake light out and issue a warning with instructions to get it repaired right away. You might also receive a warning in some situations to slow down a bit or risk getting a traffic ticket.
Flashing red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror is all it takes to make your heart beat faster. When a police officer approaches your driver’s side window, you might feel nervous and afraid. If the officer asks you to exit your vehicle, you can assume he or she thinks you have committed a crime — most likely, driving while impaired. The next request might be for you to take a field sobriety test, in which case it’s critical to know your rights and how to protect them.
Three common tests
In the 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helped develop three field sobriety tests that would become a standard way of determining probable cause to make drunk driving arrests in Maryland and throughout the country. The following list provides brief explanations of each test:
- The walk-and-turn test is something with which most licensed drivers are at least somewhat familiar. You must walk a straight line by placing the heels of one foot at the toes of the other while holding your arms outstretched at shoulder length.
- A one-leg stance test requires you to stand on one foot with the other held about six inches off the ground. In this test, the officer may ask you to look upward with arms at your sides while you count a series of numbers out loud.
- If the officer asks you take a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, it means he or she wants to observe your eye movement as you track an object from left to right or vertically. Intoxication often causes people’s eyeballs to jerk erratically before reaching maximum peripheral vision points.
There are several reasons field sobriety tests are not always reliable. For one thing, you might have a past injury or other condition that makes it difficult for you to perform such tests well. Even sober people can have poor balance and might not perform well at all when a police officer asks them to stand on one foot. You might also have an eye condition that affects your ability to perform a horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
Your personal rights
A Maryland police officer must have probable cause to arrest you for suspected drunk or drugged driving. Most officers use field sobriety tests to help them determine whether probable cause exists. You are not legally obligated to submit to a request to take such a test. Your refusal is not grounds for arrest. If a police officer gives you a failing grade, he or she may take you into custody. Whether you refuse to take a field test or submit, you may request legal representation at any time.