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Why Sobriety Tests Are Flawed

Why Sobriety Tests Are Flawed

Posted in Criminal Defense Illinois DUI Attorney

If you’ve been arrested on a drunk driving charge and failed a standardized field sobriety test, all is not lost. The standardized battery of field sobriety tests which aim to effectively spot possible DUI violators in Illinois are not always accurate and may result in the arrest of innocent drivers. Take the first step in protecting your rights by contacting the experienced DUI defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., who can help defend you in court.

What Are Standardized Sobriety Tests?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sanctioned three field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn tests. Each test is supposed to let police officers measure a specific response or reflex that is believed compromised from drinking.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures the involuntary jerking of an individual’s eye, as this motion is often intensified if a person is intoxicated. The one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn tests are supposed to measure both coordination and a person’s ability to follow specific directions.

For example, for the one-leg stand, an officer will tell you to raise either foot approximately 6″ off the ground, keeping the bottom of the foot parallel to the ground and count out loud from 1 to 30. There are 4 clues an officer is looking for during this test, including raising of the arms, swaying, hopping, and putting the raised foot down.

For walk-and-turn, the officer will ask you to stand in an uncomfortable position while you listen to instructions, such as: Walk the line, heel to toe, for 9 steps; turn in a specific manner; keep your arms at your sides; look at your feet; count out loud.

After these tests, the officer will ask you to take a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT). The results of the PBT cannot be used against you to prove your intoxication, but if you fail, they will provide the police with the grounds to arrest you for DUI. Once you are arrested, you will be asked to take an official estimate of your blood alcohol level, which is usually given at the police station with a desktop device. This device must have been certified as being accurate, and the test can only be administered by a qualified technician. The results of this test can have specific criminal and driver’s license consequences.

Be aware that there is no penalty for refusing to take the SFST or the PBT. However, if you take the PBT but refuse the official test, you will be written down as a refusal, and penalties for a refusal are worse than they are if you take the official test. Instead of being suspended for six months for taking the test, you will be suspended for twelve months if you are a first offender. If you are not a first offender, your suspension will be twelve months if you test and three years if you refuse. 625 ILCS 6/208.1

Flaws In The Tests

Any mistakes you make while taking these tests are considered by the officers to be “clues” that you are impaired by alcohol. However, there are times an intoxicated person can pass the tests, and there are reasons why sober individuals may fail them. Someone may just have poor coordination or bad balance, or the street might be slippery, or the officer may make them nervous. The officer may be difficult to understand or may just interpret the results in the wrong way.

Studies have shown that the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is 77 percent accurate. The walk-and-turn test is accurate 68 percent of the time, and the one-leg stand 65 percent of the time. This means that 23-35 % of the time the test is inaccurate, so this is not an absolute way of proving someone is guilty of DUI. There have been instances of suspected drunk drivers who allegedly “failed” the field sobriety test, until video evidence of the testing revealed that the suspect had actually passed. And there is no conclusive evidence that a person who is sober will perform better on an FST than a person who is intoxicated.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

As long as there is so much error in field sobriety tests, you have a defense against a DUI due to a failed performance test. The skilled Illinois DUI defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. realize that each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense.

Don’t delay — contact us for help today at 630-305-0222 or 312-388-7882. We represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Bolingbrook, and the great Chicago Metropolitan area. Your free initial consultation can be scheduled at our offices.



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