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What you need to know about field sobriety tests

Police officers in Pennsylvania are always on the lookout for drunk or otherwise impaired drivers. Police may pull over anyone suspected of driving under the influence and ask them to participate in field sobriety testing. What exactly does that mean?

Field sobriety tests require you to walk through various physical actions so that law enforcement can check for signs of impairment. Three field sobriety tests are what many consider the gold standard. The problem with them all is that none of them are as accurate as certain professionals proclaim them to be. All are prone to human error, which results in false positives. This means that you could end up charged with DUI even if you are not drunk or otherwise intoxicated.

The tests and what they look for

The three widely used field sobriety tests are the walk and turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. This is how they work and what officers are looking for:

  • The walk and turn: In this test, an officer will ask you to walk a straight line, turn and walk back without using your arms to balance. If you stray from the path or do anything to help you balance, this is a sign of impairment and you will fail the test.
  • The one-leg stand: In this test, the officer will ask you to hold one foot off the ground for a set period of time and maintain your balance without using your arms, dropping your foot, hopping or swaying. If you cannot maintain balance, you fail the test.
  • The HGN: In this test, the officer will ask you to follow a finger, pen or light with your eyes in order for the officer to look for an exaggerated jerking motion when the eye reaches a certain angle. If this is present, you fail the test.

These are straightforward tests, but they are simple for an officer to mess up. The problem with all of them is that they are subjective in nature, and various other factors can cause one to fail. If an officer has been poorly trained in how to administer them, you may fail because of his or her poor judgment or because the officer failed to take into account your age, disabilities, medications, use of contact lenses or even what type of shoes you are wearing.

Refuse or fail?

When pulled over by police, compliance is generally key to getting a stop over quickly and without issue. However, when asked to participate in field sobriety testing, it is your right to refuse. There are consequences for doing so, though -- such as criminal charges and loss of driving privileges. At the end of the day, you have to do what you feel is best for you at that moment. Either way, legal counsel will work diligently to help you fight any resulting criminal and administrative penalties that follow.

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