Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
One of the scariest aspects of a traffic stop is that you never know what to expect from the law enforcement officer. If an officer wants to conduct a field sobriety test, you have the right to refuse—but you need to understand the difference between field sobriety tests and chemical/breath tests. Regardless of whether you choose to participate in these tests, if you are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), contact an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Understanding Field Sobriety Tests
The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is actually three separate tests that police conduct during a traffic stop to determine if a driver is impaired. The three tests are:
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. This test measures a driver’s ability to visually track an object that moves in a horizontal direction. HGN refers to an individual’s involuntary jerking of an eyeball.
- The walk-and-turn test. For this test, a police officer instructs a driver to take nine steps, touching toe-to-heel along a straight line for all nine steps. The driver then must turn and repeat the test in the opposite direction. The primary purpose of this test is to evaluate the driver’s balance and ability to follow instructions.
- One-leg stand test. For this test, an officer instructs a driver to stand on one-leg positioned about six inches off of the ground. While standing, the driver must count by ones, starting with one thousand, until told to put the leg down. The standard time for this test is 30 seconds, and its primary purpose is to demonstrate a driver’s balance and coordination.
All drivers have the right to refuse any of the tests involved in a SFST. Under Pennsylvania law, an officer cannot force you to perform field sobriety tests. However, the law requires drivers to submit to chemical or blood and breath tests. Failure to participate in a chemical/breath test when requested by an officer can result in serious penalties, each with long-lasting consequences.
Pennsylvania law considers an individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle a privilege, rather than a right. Just by driving, all drivers accept that privilege and provide the state with implied consent to submit to chemical/breath testing if suspected of DUI. When demanding that a driver submit to alcohol testing, a police officer must inform the driver that failure to submit to the test will result in an automatic one-year suspension of all driving privileges. Drivers with prior suspensions face an 18 month suspension of their licenses. In addition to any suspensions, drivers who refuse alcohol testing may encounter maximum fees of $2,000 to restore their driving privileges.
To recap, Pennsylvania drivers need to know:
- You must submit to chemical, blood, or breath testing.
- You can refuse a field sobriety test.
The Skinner Law Firm
A DUI arrest can hurt your family, your career, and your reputation. At the Skinner Law Firm, our founder, Michael J. Skinner, uses his experience as a former prosecutor and his knowledge of Pennsylvania DUI laws to help clients navigate the legal system and eventually move on from their arrests. If you were arrested for DUI, call the Skinner Law Firm at (610) 436-1410, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation today.