Problems with Field Sobriety Tests and Breathalyzers in Georgia

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When people are stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence, field sobriety and breathalyzer test results are often used as evidence against them to secure a conviction. However, these types of tests may be plagued with significant problems that can be used as a basis to challenge the prosecutionís case. It is important to talk to a criminal defense lawyer if facing charges for DUI to determine whether these types of challenges may apply to your case.

About Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed field sobriety testing. These standards are used by law enforcement professionals across the country, including those in Georgia. These tests are used to determine whether a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol. The three primary tests recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include the following tests:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

This test monitors involuntary eye movement when a person looks to the side. The foundation behind this test is that when a person is impaired, this impairment can exaggerate or cause horizontal gaze nystagmus. This test usually includes moving a small object like a pen or flashlight across the defendantís field of version. A law enforcement officer looks for signs of impairment, such as whether the eye has difficulty following a moving object smoothly, whether eye movement is distinguishable when taken to the outer range and whether the eye demonstrates any jerking movement within 45 degrees of the eyeís center.

Walk and Turn Test

This test monitors a defendantís balance as well as his or her ability to follow simple instructions. A law enforcement officer asks the defendant to take nine steps for this test. He or she instructs the defendant to walk heel to toe, then turn on one foot and return to his or her starting point. The defendant can be considered to fail the test if he or she steps outside of a straight line, turns too late, turns too early, takes the wrong number of steps or uses his or her arms to maintain balance. Also, he or she is considered to fail if he or she does not walk heel to toe.

One Leg Stand Test

This test primarily measures the defendantís balance. He or she is expected keep one leg bent above the knee and stand on the other leg. He or she must maintain balance for 30 seconds. However, if the defendant hops or uses his or her arms to maintain balance or cannot maintain balance, these signs are supposedly indicative of impairment.

Accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is 88 percent accurate, one leg stand tests are 83 percent accurate and walk and turn tests are 79 percent accurate in finding impairment. However, these statistics are only accurate when the tests are administered accurately. Additionally, all of these tests have room for error.

Problems with DUI Breath Tests

While many law enforcement officers consider breathalyzer tests to be accurate tests, there are several reasons why these tests can provide inaccurate results. Some cities have experienced many false negative readings because the breathalyzer machine was not properly calibrated. When a person provides a breath sample that leads to a false positive result, he or she may be subject to a conviction that results in harsh penalties.

Many false positives are the result of something that the defendant ate or drank other than alcohol. For example, a person may have recently used mouthwash, which could result in a false positive breath test because of the alcohol contained in this product. Mints or gum may have menthol or sugar substitutes that may be misread as alcohol. Other issues may be caused because of medical conditions that the defendant has. For example, legal medication that the defendant is taking may contain menthol or alcohol that results in a false positive for drinking alcohol. A person with diabetes may have a false positive result because their blood sugar levels register an acetone level higher than a non-diabetic person. Another possible medical condition that can result in a false positive is acid reflux. A person with this condition may have a higher blood alcohol concentration result in his or her breath than what is in their breath or blood. Regurgitated alcohol can affect the results.

If you would like help challenging DUI charges that you are facing, contact a DUI criminal defense lawyer for assistance.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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