Challenging The Field Sobriety Tests In A Florida DUI
According to most estimates, Florida has one of the highest chemical test refusal rates in the country. Much of this data dates back prior to the state’s refusal-to-submit law, and that measure may drive down the refusal rate. Section 316.1939 makes refusal to provide a chemical sample a misdemeanor. Faced with that kind of punishment, many Floridians may think twice about providing a breath or blood sample.
Nevertheless, because of the high refusal rate, a lot of Driving Under the Influence cases in Port St. Lucie are based on circumstantial evidence. This evidence almost always comes from the three National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved field sobriety tests. Officers sometimes administer unapproved tests as well. But their results may be inadmissible in court.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
Police officers and prosecutors often plus the HGN test as the most scientific of the three. Indeed, the method is well-established. But there are some major problems with using HGN results to prove intoxication.
Essentially, officers ask suspects to track moving objects, like the ends of ink pens, using only their eyes while keeping their heads still. If the pupil moves involuntarily at certain angles, the person probably has nystagmus.
The test is highly accurate, if it occurs under controlled conditions. But the environment in a roadside DUI stop is far from controlled. It is usually dark, the squad car’s overhead lights usually flash in the suspect’s face, and cars whiz by at high speeds. Sometimes officers account for these conditions, but usually, they do not.
Second, there is not a direct relationship between nystagmus and alcohol. A childhood brain injury, and not alcohol, is the leading cause of nystagmus. Certain medical conditions and medications also cause these involuntary eye movements. Again, officers are supposed to account for these alternate causes. But, for one reason or another, that doesn’t always happen.
One Leg Stand/Walk-And-Turn
These two tests are quite similar. They are both divided attention tests. Intoxicated people have a great deal of trouble multitasking. Theoretically, then, these tests are conclusive evidence of intoxication.
For the OLS, the suspect must elevate one leg at a certain angle for a certain number of seconds. In the WAT (heel-to-toe walk test), the suspect must walk a line heel-to-toe for a certain number of steps, turn around, and walk back in the same way.
In both these tests, officers often testify that the Port St. Lucie suspect “failed” the test because of a technicality or two, like starting with the wrong foot or an almost imperceptible sway. There are sometimes issues with the conditions as well. For example, it is almost impossible to walk an imaginary line heel-to-toe under any circumstances.
In a DUI trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to establish each element of the offense beyond any reasonable doubt. Then, the Florida jury decides whether or not the suspect failed the test based on the evidence. And, the jury’s conclusion is the only one that counts.
Reach Out to Savvy Lawyers
Circumstantial evidence DUI cases are hard for prosecutors to win. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.