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What You Need to Know About Field Sobriety Tests in Pennsylvania

March 07, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

When police officers suspect someone of a DUI they will pull them over and often ask them to perform a number of field sobriety tests. They will use the results of these tests to help prove that the driver was under the influence when they were pulled over. Police officers often try to convince drivers they are required by law to take these tests. However, is this true?

Three Main Field Sobriety Tests

police officer may ask a suspected DUI driver to perform any number of field sobriety tests. The main three are the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and the one-leg stance test. Police officers may not ask a suspected driver to perform all three tests, but they will likely ask them to perform at least one.

The walk-and-turn test is exactly what it sounds like. The officer will ask the driver to walk a number of steps, turn around, and walk back in the opposite direction. Officers typically instruct the driver to walk in a heel-to-toe fashion. If the d river takes more steps than they were instructed to, or lose their balance, the officer will likely use that as proof of a DUI and arrest the driver.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is used to test the natural movement of a person’s eyes once they are pulled over for a DUI. The office r will hold a small object, such as a pen, in front of the suspected driver’s eyes and ask them to follow its movements as the officer moves the object back and forth horizontally. If the driver cannot follow the movements properly, or the eyes involuntarily move or twitch, the officer will also use this as further proof of the DUI.

During a one-leg stance test, the officer will ask the driver to stand on one foot only for a specified period of time. If the driver stands on the wrong foot or loses their balance during the test, the officer will also likely use this as proof of the DUI.

Problems With Field Sobriety Tests

There are a number of problems with field sobriety tests. Firstly, while police officers are trained in administering field sobriety tests, they have usually already decided the driver is guilty of a DUI. The tests are only used to strengthen their case against the driver.

Secondly, these tests are not very reliable. number of factors can influence these tests including sicknesses, medical conditions, or even simple nervousness. Failing to pass these tests does not necessarily mean a person has been driving under the influence.

Are Drivers Required to Take Field Sobriety Tests?

Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent laws, drivers are required to take certain tests to deter min e if they were driving under the influence. The tests drivers are required to submit to include breath, blood, and urine tests.

However, these laws do not apply to field sobriety tests. In fact, they are most often only us ed to provide grounds for the police officer to make an arrest when they have very little other evidence. Regardless of what an officer says at the scene, as long as a driver politely and respectfully declines the test, they cannot face prosecution for that decision.

Failed a Field Sobriety Test? Contact a Pennsylvania DUI Attorney Today

Due to the fact that field sobriety tests are so unreliable, and also not required by law, it is possible to challenge the results of these tests. Those that have already failed the tests though, have likely already been arrested for a DUI. When that is the case, those charged will need to speak to a DUI lawyer in Pennsylvania to fight the charges.

If you have been charged with driving under the influence, call van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim today at (215) 486-0123. We will investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, challenge any unlawful behavior by the police, and build you a strong defense for the most successful outcome in court. Don’t try to beat DUI charges on your own. Call us today so we can start discussing your case.

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