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Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Field Sobriety Tests

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Field Sobriety Tests provide the officer with probable cause for an arrest for DUI if done properly

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, DUI Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Standard field sobriety tests often provide a police officer with the first significant opportunity to decide if a person should be arrested for driving under the influence. These tests, which are frequently administered at roadside in the vicinity of the initial police encounter, are designed to assist an officer in forming probable cause to make a DUI arrest.  Where an arrestee refuses chemical testing to determine blood alcohol content, field tests can furnish the most important evidence of intoxication.  In many "routine" cases, field testing is the last step in an officer's probable cause determination to make a DUI arrest. The Superior Court has held "that reasonable grounds to arrest does not require the failure of field sobriety tests."  A motorist's failure of field sobriety tests is sufficient circumstantial evidence of an inability to drive safely, especially when coupled with other indicia of intoxication-such as an odor, slow speech patterns and disorientation.

Here are five things that you probably didn't know about these tests:

1) You do not have to take them;

2) An officer does not have to offer them to a suspect either;

3) The police and prosecutors may use your "refusal" to establish a consciousness of guilt, this is because there is no right to refuse the tests.  This is because police commentary on a criminal defendant's post-arrest silence is improper, a similar prohibition does not attach to a defendant's pre-arrest silence. Commonwealth v. Gumby, 398 Pa.Super. 155, 580 A.2d 1110 (1990).  Accord Commonwealth v. McConnell, 404 Pa.Super. 439 (1991), (defendant's videotaped refusals to submit to blood alcohol test and to perform field sobriety tests while in police custody were admissible in prosecution for driving under the influence).

4) Improperly administered tests may be suppressed as evidence against the suspect and may, in fact, lead to the dismissal of the DUI because of an improper arrest;

5) There are only three types of field tests are approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA): the HGN, one-leg stand and walk-and-turn tests.  The "alphabet test, "finger to nose," or touching your fingertips together or picking up a coin from the ground are not approved testing methods.

If you've been arrested for a Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") and you have questions about the police procedure, contact experienced DUI counsel at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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