Being pulled over by the police is rarely a good experience, but it can be especially stressful when a person is accused of driving under the influence. When Pennsylvania police believe that someone is drunk driving, they will usually ask that he or she participate in a series of field sobriety tests. These are a series of physical and verbal tasks that most people will be asked to undergo before determining if more advanced testing — such as a Breathalyzer — is necessary, or if there is probable cause for an arrest.
Slurred speech and red eyes may indeed be signs of intoxication, but other causes may contribute to these symptoms. As such, officers cannot arrest someone simply because they appear intoxicated while driving. Instead, they must have probable cause to believe so.
If a driver exhibits signs of being intoxicated during a traffic stop or if there is a noticeable smell of alcohol, field sobriety tests can be used to determine whether he or she is under the influence. The Standardized Field Sobriety Test — the SFST — consists of three components. Drivers are typically asked to exit the vehicle before performing a horizontal gaze test, walking a straight line then turning around and standing on one leg. The results of these physical tests will usually tell officers whether they have probable cause for an arrest or a Breathalyzer.
Drivers pulled over on the suspicion of drunk driving should be prepared to perform field sobriety tests. However, since these tests are judged by the opinions of an attending officer, it is possible that his or her interpretations of a driver’s state could be misguided or wrong. Pennsylvania defendants who believe they were misjudged during a field sobriety test may be well-advised to take swift action under the guidance of experienced legal counsel, as drunk driving charges tend to proceed quickly.
Source: FindLaw, “Field Sobriety Tests“, Accessed on Jan. 9, 2018