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Understanding Field Sobriety Tests and How to Challenge Results 

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests and How to Challenge Results 

In Pennsylvania, anyone over the age of 21 who is found to have a blood alcohol content level above 0.08 percent may be considered to be driving under the influence. Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are often used to determine a person’s blood alcohol content level and their level of impairment.

If you are facing DUI charges, understanding field sobriety tests (FSTs) and how to challenge their results can make a significant difference in your defense. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer at Mooney Law is here to explain everything you need to know about FSTs, their administration, and how to challenge their accuracy in court.

What are Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)?

Field sobriety tests are standardized physical and cognitive activities conducted by law enforcement officers to determine whether a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. These tests are typically administered at the roadside following a traffic stop, and they aim to provide probable cause for a more accurate chemical test, such as a breathalyzer or blood test.

The most commonly used FSTs include tasks that challenge a person’s motor skills, balance, and cognitive abilities.

1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

This test assesses involuntary eye movements, known as nystagmus, as the subject tracks a moving object like a pen or flashlight. Nystagmus can be more noticeable when a person is impaired by alcohol. During the test, the officer instructs the subject to follow the object with their eyes, keeping their head still. The officer observes for distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation and the onset of nystagmus before reaching a 45-degree angle.

2. Walk-and-Turn Test

In this test, the subject is directed to proceed forward and take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line. The subject will then turn around using one foot and return similarly.

This evaluates balance, coordination, and the ability to follow instructions. Before the test begins, the officer will provide a demonstration and clear directions. During the test, the officer will observe signs of impairment, including starting before the instructions are finished, losing balance, stepping off the line, and using arms for balance.

3. One-Leg Stand Test

The individual must stand on one leg while counting aloud until instructed to stop, typically for about 30 seconds. This assesses balance and concentration, which can be impaired by alcohol or drug use.

The officer will demonstrate the position and provide instructions, including keeping arms at the sides and the raised foot approximately six inches off the ground. Indicators of impairment include swaying while balancing, using arms for balance, hopping, or putting the foot down before the test is completed.

Consequences of a DUI Arrest in Pennsylvania

A DUI arrest in Pennsylvania carries serious repercussions that extend beyond immediate penalties. Upon arrest, individuals face administrative penalties, such as suspending or revoking their driver’s license, even before a court conviction.

Criminal penalties can include hefty fines, mandatory alcohol education classes, community service, and potential jail time, depending on the severity of the offense and whether it is a repeated violation.

Additionally, a DUI conviction results in a criminal record, which can have long-term effects on employment prospects, insurance rates, and personal reputation. It’s crucial to seek help from a DUI attorney in Pennsylvania right away to protect your rights.

Challenging FST Results

When facing DUI charges, challenging the results of field sobriety tests can be a critical component of a DUI defense. Here are several strategies that our DUI attorney in Pennsylvania may use on your behalf:

Improper Administration

Field sobriety tests must be administered according to standardized procedures set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Any deviation from these guidelines can render the results unreliable. For example, the results could be compromised if the officer gave unclear instructions or demonstrated the test incorrectly.

Inadequate Training

The accuracy of FSTs largely depends on the officer’s training and experience. An officer who lacks proper training or has limited experience administering these tests may not conduct them correctly, leading to inaccurate results.

Cross-examining the officer’s training records and experience can reveal deficiencies that may undermine the test results.

Environmental Factors

External factors like poor lighting, uneven surfaces, bad weather conditions, or heavy traffic can affect a person’s performance on field sobriety tests. If the tests were conducted in less-than-ideal conditions, it could be argued that these factors, rather than impairment, influenced the results.

Documentation Issues

Accurate record-keeping is essential in DUI cases. If there are discrepancies or gaps in the documentation of the field sobriety tests, it can cast doubt on the reliability of the results. For example, if the officer’s notes are incomplete or contradict other evidence, it can be a basis for challenging the FST results.

Physical or Medical Conditions

Medical conditions, physical injuries, or even disabilities can impact a person’s field sobriety test results and may even prevent them from performing the test accurately. Conditions like inner ear disorders, neurological issues, or even wearing high-heeled shoes can impair balance and coordination. Providing medical evidence of such conditions can help challenge the test results.

Alternative Explanations for Test Results

Various non-alcohol-related factors can affect FST performance. Fatigue, anxiety, or nervousness during the test can cause poor performance, as can certain medications or illnesses. Presenting these alternative explanations can help create reasonable doubt regarding the FST results.

Understanding Pennsylvania DUI Laws

Field sobriety test results in Pennsylvania are often used as evidence in DUI cases. However, they are not infallible, and their accuracy can be challenged in court. Understanding how FST results factor into DUI charges and potential penalties is crucial for mounting an effective defense.

In Pennsylvania, a DUI conviction can lead to severe consequences, including fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment. The severity of these penalties often depends on factors such as blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels, prior DUI convictions, and whether there was an accident or injury involved.

Contact Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, it’s imperative to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. At Mooney Law, our experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer is committed to protecting your rights and providing a robust defense.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss your legal options. We will work tirelessly to challenge the field sobriety test results and build a strong defense on your behalf.

Ready to take the first step in your defense? Contact Mooney Law and let our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer guide you through this challenging time.

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