Drunk Driving & Field Sobriety Testing – What you need to know
Christmas and the holiday season is here and many will hit the roads for parties with friends and families. While state government are recommending staying home this holiday season, people, for the most part are ignoring them. There is even evidence to suggest that overly restrictive shutdowns do nothing to slow the spread of COVID 19.
Despite statewide restrictions in New Jersey & Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Police, over this Thanksgiving weekend, recorded the same number of drunk driving arrests (18) this year as they did in 2019. While Pennsylvania State police recorded substantially less DUI arrests (22) in Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties, they dropped from last year (57). There were. however, two more DUI crashes in 2020 than in 2019. There was one crash fatality during Thanksgiving, just like last year.
The point is that drunk driving arrests are still occurring during this holiday season and it remains a very hot legal topic. It is extremely important that if you’re arrested for drunk driving in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you must understand the process. An important part of any drunk driving arrest are the field sobriety tests
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA) standardized field sobriety tests often form the basis for probable cause to arrest a person on suspicion of DUI. These tests, in theory, are supposed to evaluate an individual’s motor coordination skills.
The NHTSA has established three (3) standardized tests:
• Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
• Walk and Turn Test
• One leg stand test.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes. This involuntary jerking and a lack of smooth pursuit (horizontal gaze) of a pencil or pen light can mean that a person is under the influence of alcohol or some drug. While involuntary jerking can demonstrate intoxication there are several medical explanations such as diseases of the inner ear, and other physical disorders which could also cause a person’s eyes to simulate that movement.
Walk and Turn Test
The Walk and Turn Test requires that the individual walk on a line either real or imaginary. The person’s left foot must move in a line ahead of his right foot in a “heal to toe” stance. The person is required to keep their arms at their sides and take (9) nine “heal to toe” steps, turn, and take 9 more “heal to toe” steps. This test also requires that the officer demonstrate the movements prior to asking the individual to complete it.
One leg stand test.
The One Leg Stand Test, similar to the Walk and Turn Test, requires that the officer provide the individual with instructions and provide a demonstration. This test requires a person to raise one foot approximately six inches off of the surface and keep it parallel to the ground. While holding that position the individual is required to count out loud until told to stop.
All of these tests obviously require some type of physical coordination and many individuals would have trouble completing them even if they had not ingested any alcohol. An effective and proper DUI defense attacks the proper administration of these tests. If one or more of these tests are not administered correctly, the prosecution may fail to establish probable cause during a Motion to Suppress. Remember that a DUI suppression motion focuses on the officer’s conduct prior to the arrest. This conduct or lack of proper conduct is often the best defense to a DUI charge.
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