Northeastern Pennsylvania Personal Injury and Criminal Defense Blog

Pre-Arrest Field Sobriety Testing in Pennsylvania

Posted by Michael A. Sklarosky | Mar 22, 2023 | 0 Comments

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when police officers initiate a traffic stop and suspect someone of driving under the influence or drugs and/or alcohol, they will often ask them to perform a number of field sobriety tests. They will use the results of these tests to help determine whether probable cause to arrest for DUI exists.  

Three Main Field Sobriety Tests

A police officer may ask a suspected DUI driver to perform any number of field sobriety tests. The main three are: 

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
    • This test involves observing an individual's eyes during a series of exercises and noting an involuntary "jerking" during the process.  The testing will consist of an officer moving a stimulus, such as a pen or small flashlight and observing the individual's eyes as they follow it. If the individual cannot follow the  movements properly, or the eyes involuntarily moveor twitch, the officer will also use this as further proof of the DUI.
  • Walk and Turn
    • This test involves the officer asking the individual to walk a number of steps, turn around, and walk back in the opposite direction. Officers typically instruct the driver to walk in a heel-to-toe fashion. If the driver takes more steps than they were instructed to, or loses their balance, the officer will likely use that as proof of a DUI and arrest the driver.  
  • One Leg Stand
    • This test involves the individual standing on one foot only for a specified period of time.  If the individual stands on the wrong foot or loses their balance during the test, the officer will also likely use this as proof of the DUI.

The Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand tests are a combination of physical and psychological tests.  The individual's balance and coordination are observed, along with their ability to follow instructions while engaged in the requested physical tasks.

Issues With Field Sobriety Tests

There are a number of issues with field sobriety tests. First, although police officers are trained in administering field sobriety tests, they have usually already decided the driver is guilty of a DUI. The tests are only used to strengthen their case against the driver.  Second, these tests are not very reliable. A number of considerations can influence performance of these tests including sicknesses, medical conditions, or even simple nervousness. 

Are Pennsylvania Drivers Required to take Field Sobriety Tests?

Pennsylvania drivers may refuse to perform field sobriety tests (This does NOT include chemical testing).  No penalty attaches to a refusal to perform field sobriety tests.  Nonethless, refusal to perform tests may be taken into account by police in determining whether probable cause exists to arrest.  Commonwealth v. Angel, 946 A.2d 115 (Pa. Super. 2008).


If you or a loved one are facing DUI charges, call Sklarosky Law today at (570) 283-1200 or use our online contact form and tell us about your potential case. DUI charges can have life altering ramifications. Do not wait, call us today so that we can help ensure that your rights are protected.

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