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Would a physical impairment keep you from passing a FST?

Like other states, law enforcement agencies across Pennsylvania use field sobriety tests to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. The tests determine whether alcohol or drugs impair an individual. The problem is that "failing" these tests is much easier than you would think.

Even if you are sober, a physical impairment could cause you to fail. You could even pass a roadside breath test, but that may not matter. An officer could place you under arrest before a breath test or blood test exonerates you. Now, you have an arrest on your record even though you did nothing wrong.

The problem with standard field sobriety tests

The officer may have asked you to participate in one or more of the following standard field sobriety tests:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test evaluates the jerking movements of your eyes. The problem is that any number of conditions, or your genetics, could cause you to have exaggerated jerking movements in your eyes that would ordinarily indicate impairment by alcohol or drugs. A head injury, a stroke or an eye disease could cause you to fail this test, along with certain legal medications, thiamine or B-12 deficiencies, or an inner ear disease.
  • Most people consider the walk and turn test easy to "pass" without issue.
  • The one-leg stand, on the other hand, could prove difficult to pass. Once again, if you suffer from a condition that affects your balance or your ability to put weight on one leg, this could cause you to fail the test.

Another factor that has nothing to do with you rests with the officer. These tests are largely subjective, and if the officer already believes you are impaired, the slightest differentiation from "normal" could result in an arrest.

What can you do?

First, if you are reading this, and police have not pulled you over on suspicion of DUI, you may want to know that you can refuse to participate in field sobriety tests without legal consequence should the situation arise. The officer may attempt to convince you that you must participate, but that is not the case. However, you will face legal consequences if you fail to submit to a breath test.

If you already face charges for DUI because you failed the field sobriety tests, there is no need to worry. With the right representation, the court may dismiss the charges when it becomes clear that you were not impaired and a physical or medical condition caused you to fail the tests.

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