When you’re stopped by a police officer for suspicion of DUI, you have a choice whether to take a field sobriety test. However, you must take a blood test, or formalized breath test (not the on-scene hand held device) if requested by the police. Failure to submit to formalized chemical testing of the breath or blood will probably result in a license suspension and enhanced DUI penalties.
This blog post answers some of the most common questions about the significance of field sobriety tests.
Why do police officers conduct field sobriety tests?
Field sobriety tests examine physical reflexes or behaviors impacted by intoxication. When you fail a field sobriety tests, the officer has probable cause to ask for a blood test or breathalyzer sample to confirm your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level and arrest you for DUI.
Which field sobriety tests does Pennsylvania allow at a DUI stop?
The Commonwealth generally uses the three standard tests sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test (also known as “follow the pen” test, the one-leg stand test and the walk-and-turn test. However, individual officers may try to use non-standard tests, such as a counting backwards test or reciting your ABCs. These tests have no standardized scoring, and you should refuse to take them. Also, the HGN test results are not admissible in Court under Pennsylvania law, as the scientific reliability of such tests has not been proven, at least in the opinion of the Pennsylvania courts.
What if I fail a sobriety test because I have a disability?
Many motorists have balance or mobility issues that make one or more of the standard sobriety tests impossible to pass, even when sober. Inner ear conditions, foot or leg injuries, and neurological conditions can result in test failures. If the officer giving the test does not take your physical disabilities into account, your results could be inaccurate.
Can I challenge the results of a field sobriety test?
Absolutely! You must take the case to court to challenge the results. But since the only two of the three standard tests are only accurate at determining BAC 82 percent of the time when conducted perfectly, the results are not considered beyond challenge.
How can a DUI attorney help me challenge the results of my field sobriety test?
A skilled Pennsylvania DUI attorney can help you successfully defend yourself in a DUI case. The attorney reviews how the field sobriety tests were conducted. They will review if your physical limitations were taken into consideration when scoring the tests. Finally, since the tests themselves are not 100 percent accurate, your attorney can also challenge whether the officer should have used them to determine your intoxication level to begin with.