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Know the facts regarding field sobriety tests in Pennsylvania

If you've experienced a traffic stop in Pennsylvania, you know how disconcerting such situations can be. Nothing can ruin a nice night out with friends or even a daily commute worse than seeing those flashing patrol car lights in your rear view mirror. If a police officer has written a traffic ticket with your name on it, you're definitely not the first, nor will you be the last, to face the option of paying the fine or fighting the ticket in court.

If a police officer suspects you of drunk driving, that's a whole other ballgame. You may already know that DUI is far more serious than a speeding ticket, which is a traffic violation. If you face DUI charges in court, prosecutors are accusing you of a criminal offense, which may greatly impact your future in more ways than one. To determine probable cause for arrest, many police officers use field sobriety tests. The more you know about such tests, the better, as well as where to seek support, if needed.

Three types of FSTs and what police are looking for

There are three basic types of FSTs that Pennsylvania police and those in other states use to check for probable cause if they're thinking of making a DUI arrest. The following list provides information about such tests, as well as what specific signs police officers are checking for when you perform FSTs:

  • FSTs typically include the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the one-leg stance test. An officer may request that you take one or all of these tests during a traffic stop.
  • You are not legally obligated to comply with such requests, although refusal can lead to other legal complications if you wind up facing DUI charges down the line.
  • During the walk-and-turn and one-leg stance tests, a police officer is typically checking your balance and agility, as well as whether you are able to follow multiple instructions simultaneously.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is more scientific. Its purpose is to allow the officer to watch your natural eyeball movements while you visually track an object he or she is holding in front of you.
  • In a walk-and-turn test, if the officer tells you to take a certain amount of steps and you take more or less, he or she may consider it evidence that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • If you sway, trip or fall to the ground while walking or standing on one leg, chances are high that you are heading to jail, at least for a given amount of time.

The problem is that your age, physical condition or an existing health issue may greatly impede your ability to perform field sobriety tests well. For instance, if you wear contact lenses, it may affect HGN results. A Pennsylvania police officer who requests that you take an FST should ask you if there is any reason you are unable to perform the test.

When FSTs lead to DUI charges

It's often a police officer's word against yours regarding possible DUI. If you refuse to take an FST, it may not play out in your favor when you try to avoid conviction. Most Pennsylvania motorists seek support as soon as possible by requesting legal representation, even as a traffic stop is unfolding.

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