Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory in PA?
If you are pulled over with suspicion of driving under the influence, you have substantial rights under Pennsylvania law. With about 1.5 million people arrested in a given year for driving under the influence, police are vigilant about keeping our roads safer and will look for a number of reasons to stop a driver. To protect your rights when pulled over by an officer, here is what you need to know.
Field Sobriety Tests are not Mandatory in PA
Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, by operating a vehicle within the Commonwealth of PA, a driver is presumed to consent to a blood, urine or breath test of his or her blood alcohol content (BAC). But you are not required to agree to a field sobriety test – an alternative diagnostic test used to measure a driver’s level of intoxication. You have the right to decline and remain silent until you have a lawyer present and it is vital that you do so to prevent anything you say or do from being used against you in court.
Officers have a number of reasons they use to pull over drivers for suspicion of driving under the influence, driving over the speed limit, staying in a lane, driving recklessly, etc. So if you are pulled over, here are the rights you have in PA:
- To refuse a field sobriety test
- To a trial with legal representation
- To have an attorney to review the state’s evidence
- To call witness
- To testify
- To make the state prove their accusations beyond a reasonable doubt
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
Standard field sobriety tests are developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration designed to help police decide if they should make an arrest. They include:
- Walk-and-Turn Test requiring a driver to take nine steps touching heel to toe walking a straight line before turning on one foot to face the opposite direction in the same manner.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (“Follow My Finger”) where the officer will observe the eyes of a driver as they slowly follow a moving object (such as a pen or flashlight) to see if there is any distinct jerking, angling or irregularity in the eye movement.
- One-Leg Stand Test will instruct the driver to stand with one foot about 6 in. off the ground and begin counting starting aloud from one-thousand until told to stop.
In addition to these standard tests, other tests may include: heel-to-toe test, finger-to-nose test, alphabet recitation, fingers-to-thumb test.
Always keep in mind, that once a driver asks to speak to a lawyer, the officers are obligated to stop asking questions and gathering information from you. So it is crucial that this is the first thing you do when pulled over.
The Downside of Field Sobriety Tests
Field tests are statistically proven to be unreliable, and even many sober individuals are unable to perform the required tasks. Outside elements like the weather or road conditions may also make it more difficult for a driver to pass a test, in addition to their physical condition; for example, if the suspect is overweight, suffers from vertigo, or has arthritis, which in all cases make it difficult to balance in any situation.
Unfortunately, it is also possible that the officer administering the test may not be not objective in recording your results or could simply make errors that would cause you to fail. For example, if the officer is conducting the horizontal gaze nystagmus test while standing with his back to moving traffic. This alone would make it difficult for any driver to fully concentrate on the task.
When considering the consequences of a failed field test, the inaccuracy is too much to risk, so it is critical that you know your rights. Likewise, if you have been arrested and are facing DUI charges, our experienced defense attorneys can bring to light any defenses to your case that will protect these rights and preserve your freedom. Contact us today to discuss your DUI case in a free consultation.