The police use many different methods at their disposal when it comes to determining whether a driver is operating a vehicle under the influence.
One of the more common methods police use to determine whether a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol is the field sobriety test. The police use this method of determining whether the driver is intoxicated as a means of establishing probable cause for an arrest.
Understanding these tests, their methods and what the police are looking for can help a driver who is facing these unfortunate situations.
Three Basic Tests
Police in Pennsylvania typically use three commonly used types of field sobriety tests (FSTs) to check for probable cause before conducting a DUI arrest.
These FSTs include the following tests:
- Walk-and-turn test
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
- One-leg stance test
The officer may ask the individual to perform one or a combination of all three tests in determining whether the person is driving under the influence, depending on how the person performs while doing one of these tests and the circumstances of the police traffic stop.
One thing that a driver should be aware of is that he or she is not legally required to comply with the police request to complete these tests. However, refusal to comply with the test can also lead to serious legal complications if the driver does end up facing DUI charges. The decision on whether to cooperate is a split-second decision that many drivers struggle to make, but it is one that can definitely affect their case down the road.
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The first of the commonly-used FSTs is the walk-and-turn test. During this test, the police officer is checking the driver’s balance and agility. The officer is also checking whether the driver is able to file multiple directions simultaneously.
It involves the driver walking, one foot in front of the other, in a straight line, turning around and walking back in the same manner.
During this FST, the police officer tells the driver how many steps he or she needs to take, there and back. Depending on how the driver does with his FST, the officer may then request that he or she complete the next type of FST.
The person’s ability to walk in a straight line, without swaying, and walking the number of steps given in the officer’s instructions, gives a clear indication of whether the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The second type of test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. During this FST, the officer is watching the driver’s natural eyeball movements as the person tracks an object that the police officer is holding in front of him or her.
During this FST, the officer may shine a light in the person’s eyes, as well, especially if the traffic stop was conducted during night hours. This specific FST is more scientific than the walk-and-turn test but is equally as effective.
One-Leg Stance Test
The last type of FST commonly used is the one-leg stance test. This FST requires the driver to stand on one leg while performing a number of other instructions. It tests the person’s agility and balance, as well, since alcohol and drugs are known to have an effect on these two factors.
If the individual swaps, trips or falls to the ground while standing on one leg, this can be an indication of intoxication.
Factors Affecting These Tests
For years, defense experts have been fighting the reliability of these tests due to the fact that many external factors can affect how a person does while performing one or all of these FSTs. The person’s age, health issues or physical conditions can affect how a person does with these tests.
The officer is also the person on the scene to determine whether or not someone has “passed” or “failed” the test and they are going to be the person to describe the test to the judge. A skilled attorney is needed to do the cross-examination of the police officer during a possible motion to suppress. Dash mounted cameras (“dashcams”) have cut down on the amount that the police can exaggerate “failing” the test.
It is for this reason that many officers will ask the person first if there are any reasons why he or she cannot perform an FST. However, keep in mind that if the answer to this question is “no,” this does not get the person off the hook. He or she will then likely need to perform a breathalyzer or blood test to determine probable cause.
The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder
At the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, we know Pennsylvania criminal law, and can help you right from the moment you are under investigation or facing criminal charges. Criminal accusations are extremely intimidating, and police might use a number of tactics to get you to confess.
Our attorneys at the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder will fight for you every step of the way. We are here to protect you, and try to obtain the best result possible. Contact us today at 215-515-3360!