What are the ways a field sobriety test can result in a false arrest?

Field sobriety tests are commonly used by law enforcement officers across the country. However, they are not always accurate.

The holiday season has passed, but that does not mean that people are done celebrating or enjoying drinks with friends. For this reason, law enforcement officers continue to patrol the Lancaster area for those who appear to be intoxicated behind the wheel. In the event an officer is unable to administer a chemical test, he or she might ask a driver to perform a field sobriety test. These tests are common, but might result in a sober person being charged with a crime. The following are some answers to frequently asked questions about field sobriety test accuracy.

What is a field sobriety test?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, standardized field sobriety tests consist of three basic tests - the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. A police officer may also pay attention to the way a driver talks, the smell of his or her breath and whether or the driver's eyes appear bloodshot.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures the involuntary jerking of a person's eyes, which may be more pronounced after intoxication. During the walk-and-turn test, a driver is asked to walk in a straight line, then turn around and walk back in the same direction. He or she is required to stand on one foot for up to 30 seconds while counting during the one-leg stand. Possible indicators of intoxication are using the arms to balance, putting one foot down during the one-leg stand or having difficulty walking in a straight line.

Are field sobriety tests accurate?

Because these tests rely on a police officer's individual interpretation, they may be inaccurate, according to NBC 29 News. In recent studies, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test was found to be accurate in 77 percent of cases and the walk-and-turn was 68 percent accurate. The one-leg stand was the least accurate at 65 percent. During an experiment, three sober people at a shopping center agreed to take a field sobriety test. Two of them experienced difficulty during the balance portions of the test, while the third said she had trouble understanding the instructions. The participants agreed that they could see how people would experience difficulties in a real test and be falsely accused of drunk driving.

How can a sober person fail the test?

According to ABC Action News, numerous physical or cognitive conditions can mimic the signs of intoxication and give officers the impression that a driver was drunk despite not having had anything to drink. For example, people with inner ear problems or difficulty balancing may perform poorly during the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand. An officer may mistake a speech impediment as drunken slurred speech. Other conditions, including injuries, obesity and mental impairments, may lead an officer to suspect a person had been drinking.

If you are accused of drunk driving after failing a field sobriety test, you have the right to defend yourself. You will need to get in touch with an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney.