Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory?


3d white people. police carrying out a breathalyser

Under Pennsylvania law, if a motorist is lawfully arrested by a police officer or state trooper with probable cause to believe that the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or another substance, a driver must submit to a chemical test of his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) by taking a sample of the driver’s blood, breath or urine. This is known as Pennsylvania’s implied consent law because, by operating a motor vehicle within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a driver is presumed to consent to such a test. (Also keep in mind, any such test must be taken within two hours of the motorist driving his or her car.)

However, a slightly different legal question that is often asked by many Pennsylvania motorists is whether they are required to consent to a field sobriety test a police officer or state trooper asks the motorist to perform. A field sobriety test is an alternative measure of a driver’s sobriety and can consist of standing on one leg, following an object like a penlight with one’s eyes, or walking a certain distance and back. Although motorists are required to submit to a chemical test under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, they are not required to submit to any field sobriety tests.  Instead, a motorist can simply say no and decline to participate in whatever field sobriety law enforcements requests/suggests.  (Keep in mind that under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution a person cannot be compelled to serve as a witness against his or herself in a criminal proceeding.) A motorist is not required to cite the Fifth Amendment as a basis for refusing a field sobriety test; one can simply say no. This is in sharp contrast to Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, which features a mandatory one year loss of  driver’s license if a motorist refuses to submit to a request for a chemical test of your BAC. Therefore, if you are a Pennsylvania motorist who has been pulled on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and you are asked to perform a field sobriety test by a police officer, keep in mind that you are entitled to refuse that request.

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