Field Sobriety Tests

When looking to build a case against you after being charged with drunk driving, you can trust that a cornerstone of the case will involve the results of chemical testing – including breath, blood and urine tests. Beyond this, however, you can trust that the preliminary field sobriety tests will also play a large and unavoidable role. The problem with these tests is that they are not a scientific way of testing for impairment and instead rely on the police officer’s judgment and opinion in determining whether or not the defendant actually is intoxicated. W hat if the police officer has bad eyesight? What if they are having a poor day? Extenuating circumstances that have absolutely nothing to do with your DUI case can unfortunately play a role in how you will be able to defend your legal rights.

Beyond this, when dealing with evidence obtained from field sobriety tests, it is important to realize that they are notoriously faulty and prone to error. Giving the test incorrectly, a defendant that is nervous or even medical conditions can all make a perfectly sober person appear to “fail” these tests. Beyond this, should the test be filmed, it is important to realize that they will only do a defendant harm and no good. With poor lighting and quality of film, they can be served to strengthen a pre-formed opinion regarding the state of the driver – even if the reason that they failed the test had nothing to do with alcohol in their system.

What are the three main types of field sobriety tests?

In an effort to standardize these tests and to improve the accuracy, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created guidelines to these tests. Creating proper protocol as to how they should be administered, as well as the different indicators that should be used to serve as red flags for a failed test. The three main tests that were used as the main field sobriety tests included the following:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – This test requires the subject to follow the tip of a pen held several inches away from their face without moving their head. The police officer will then watch their eye motions to determine whether the gaze is following in a smooth pattern or if it is resulting in the eye jerking. Scientific evidence has proven that alcohol can cause a condition known as nystagmus which causes the eye to jerk laterally – this test aggravates that.
  • One-Leg Stand – This is known as a “divided attention” test as it requires the defendant to both listen to directions and perform the demanded actions. During this test, a defendant must stand on one foot while raising the other six feet off the ground. They must count aloud until the officer tells them that they can put their foot down. Any sign of imbalance or wobbling can be used against the defendant as evidence of intoxication.
  • Walk-and-Turn – Again, this is a “divided attention” test that requires the defendant to walk in a straight line with their heel touching their toe for nine steps. At the end of the last step, they are to turn on a single foot and return. If they step off the line, make an incorrect amount of steps, start before they are told the test has begun, it can be used as a sign of a failed test.

Chicago DUI Lawyer

At the Law Offices of Michael P. Schmiege, the Chicago criminal lawyers know that just because a client has “failed” a field sobriety test does not mean that they have a case that is without defense. Even when used all together and done exactly to the protocol set out by the NHTSA, these tests do not have a 100% accuracy rate. If the officer is not properly trained, if the instructions are not given exactly as written out or if there are extenuating factors, it could play into a failed result.

Their legal team remains committed to ensuring that clients do not suffered from a criminal offense that they do not deserve. Regardless of whether this is for a first time DUI offense or if the defendant has multiple DUI convictions on their record already, they will provide the same level of dedicated and high-quality assistance that can truly be relied upon. By working with a Chicago criminal defense attorney, you will be able to be confident knowing that they will go the distance in their efforts to help you protect your legal rights.

Contact a Chicago DUI lawyer from the firm today to learn more about how they can help you against the results of a “failed” field sobriety test.



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