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Field sobriety tests are not infallible in a DUI case

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2024 | DUI/DWI |

Most people are aware of the testing procedures used to determine whether a driver is under the influence of intoxicants in Oregon. They include the breathalyzer test to check how much alcohol they have in their system. Another method is the field sobriety test. In addition, officers can interpret signs and symptoms of intoxication through the person’s movements and behavior. These are less scientific and people whose case hinges on their results should know to question their validity.

Understanding field sobriety tests and analysis

When a law enforcement officer testifies regarding an alleged DUI, they can reference the field sobriety tests. These include a driver who has trouble walking or is walking in an unusual way; has trouble standing upright; is unable to follow directions; emits a smell of alcohol; has problems with their speech; is behaving in an unruly manner; is showing signs of lack of muscular coordination; appears sleepy; is physically ill with vomiting or has nausea; is moody; or has bloodshot or watery eyes.

These are signs the officer can attest were happening at the time of the investigation. The Department of State Police has specific field sobriety tests that have been approved for use to gauge a person’s sobriety. Examples include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, walk and turn, one leg stand and touching a finger to the nose. There are others such as reciting the alphabet and counting.

With HGN, the officer must have been trained by an accredited organization. They will then use an object like a pencil or a penlight and hold it vertically in front of the driver around 12 to 15 inches from their face. They will move it back and forth and watch the driver’s eyes for signs of intoxication. Walk and turn and one leg stand are relatively self-explanatory.

Despite training procedures and rules for their use, these procedures are not infallible. There could be extenuating circumstances that make the driver appear to have been under the influence when they were not in violation of the law.

People charged with DUI can fight the charges

Since DUI can result in serious penalties including a driver’s license suspension, jail and fines, it is important to understand how tests are conducted and if flaws can render them inadmissible or reduce their impact. There are several ways to challenge the case including the justification for the traffic stop, the breathalyzer not being properly calibrated, the officer’s credentials being questioned or the tests being done in an unfair manner. It is useful to explore every option in a DUI case to try and reach a positive result.