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What are Standard Field Sobriety Tests (FST's)?

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Field Sobriety Tests are a standard set of "objective tests" designed to assist an officer in determining if a motorist is incapable of safe driving.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, DUI 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.

Unlike the classic objective indicators of intoxication (such as an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, unsteady gait and poor balance), most field sobriety tests (with the exception of the pre-arrest breath test or PBT) are predicated on subjective scoring decisions by police based on observations of a motorist's performance on the tests. Police are trained to look for certain errors, or "clues," which are believed to have a correlation to a person's blood alcohol content. The number of clues necessary to have a particular field test deemed a failure varies with each test.

Often, police will make field notes of a DUI investigation and keep track of a motorist's performance on field testing with a scoring sheet. These records not only help an officer determine at the scene if an individual should be arrested for DUI, but provide valuable assistance to the officer at trial when called upon to testify about field test performance and probable cause. Some police departments use a standard form for the recordation of field sobriety test results such as those shown in illustrations 10-1 and 10-2. Both prosecuting and defense counsel must ascertain if field notes and scoring sheets were maintained and review these documents in preparation for litigation.

If you've been arrested for Driving Under the Influence and underwent Field Sobriety Tests, contact an experienced attorney that can review the results of these tests with you.  You may contact the firm of Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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