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Field Sobriety Testing for DUI

In the 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed three standardized field sobriety tests to identify drivers possibly driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk and Turn test, and the One-Leg Stand test.

While these tests may be administered at the side of the road shortly after an officer has pulled someone over, blood and breath tests may also be administered. One type of breath test may be administered at the scene while others will have to wait until the officer and the driver arrive back at the police station.

The courts have determined that many of these tests are relatively accurate. However, a Scranton DUI lawyer can challenge them in court and possibly have the results thrown out. It is for this reason that anyone charged with a DUI contact a DUI lawyer in Scranton as soon as possible after arrest.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is designed to test the movement of a person’s eyes. A police officer will hold an object, such as a pen, in front of the person’s eyes. The person will then be asked to follow the object using only their eyes. If the eyes start to jerk in an irregular fashion, it is thought to be probable cause to conduct more testing.

This test should only be conducted to determine probable cause. The courts have deemed it to be highly unreliable and so, the results are not admissible at trial. Certain medications and conditions can mimic the signs of intoxication that may present themselves during this test.

Walk-and-Turn Test

This test is designed to analyze a person’s balance, as well as their ability to follow simple instructions. A driver will be asked to take nine steps forward. Those steps must be in a straight line, and must be taken heel-to-toe. After the nine steps have been completed, the police officer will ask the driver to turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. At the end of the test, they should be in the same spot they were when the test began.

This test also does not produce highly accurate results. Certain injuries and conditions can prevent a person from being able to fully balance, or to walk in the heel-to-toe manner as instructed. Some police officers may even have the driver walking too close to traffic, which can also interfere with a person’s balance.

One-Leg Stand Test

This seemingly simple test requires a driver to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground. As the driver balances they will be asked to count by one-thousands. The test should take no longer than 30 seconds to complete.

Again, this test can be challenged in court. Physical injuries, conditions, and a number of other factors that do not include actual intoxication can negatively and inaccurately skew the results of this test.

PBT Tests

In Pennsylvania, police officers can use a PBT, or a handheld breathalyzer to calculate a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). While not completely reliable, if the driver’s BAC is over 0.08 percent, it can provide probable cause for the officer to conduct more testing.

The biggest problem with these tests is that under The Pennsylvania Code, section 77.24, the machines must be calibrated correctly. Few police officers ensure this is done, and even the slightest movements in a police vehicle can cause the calibration to be inaccurate.

Blood Alcohol Testing

Blood tests can only be administered after a police officer has sufficient probable cause that a driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers that refuse this test will have their license revoked for at least one year by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The fact that a driver refused this test may also be used against them should the case go to trial.

Blood tests must be administered by certified healthcare workers in approved clinical laboratories. The same is true for urine tests.

Breath Tests

Other breath tests may be administered once at the police station or in a certified laboratory. These tests are much more accurate than the hand-held PBT tests an officer may also use. However, there are still regulations that must be followed.

These machines must also be properly calibrated and the tests administered by a certified professional. Prior to the testing, the driver must undergo a 20-minute observation period. After the first test, a second test must be administered within a specified period of time. After both tests have been taken, the results must be within 0.02 percent of each other in order for the results to be admissible in court.

How a Scranton DUI Attorney can Help

It is advised that drivers submit to field sobriety tests if a police officer asks them to do so. Failing to submit to tests can result in license revocation, and more evidence being used against the driver in court. However, test results and the administration of the actual tests can be refuted by an experienced DUI attorney in Scranton.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, contact Ernest D. Preate, Jr., Esquire today at 570-209-9865. Many tests are inaccurate, and police officers do not always have probable cause when administering them. Attorney Preate will use these details to dismantle the prosecution’s case and give you back your freedom. Don’t try to beat these charges on your own. Call our office today and get the help you need.

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Ernest D. Preate, Jr. Esquire

204 Wyoming Avenue
2nd Floor, Suite C
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
Phone: 570-209-9865
Fax: 570-558-5973

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