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What You Need to Know About Field Sobriety Tests During an Illinois DUI Stop

Posted on in DUI

Will County DUI Defense AttorneyAccording to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2016, accounting for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States that year. One way of trying to prevent drunk driving crashes is by performing DUI stops. During this type of traffic stop, a police officer may ask an alleged drunk driver to submit to a series of tests to determine his or her level of impairment. A field sobriety test is used by police officers when a motorist is stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, the accuracy of these tests is often questioned. Consequently, it is important to note that a driver can refuse to submit to a field sobriety test without penalty in Illinois. 

What Do the Tests Involve?  

The Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a series of three tests that judge a person’s ability to perform certain tasks that require specific motor skills. Statistics show that these tests have been proven to confirm legal intoxication (.08 or higher BAC) in motorists suspected of drunk driving in 90 percent of cases if conducted properly by a law enforcement officer. 

The three tests that comprise the SFST are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) - The officer will ask the driver to slowly follow a stimulus with his or her eyes only, while the officer moves it from side to side or up and down. This can be a pencil or flashlight, and it tests the motorist’s voluntary and involuntary eye movements. 
  • Walk-and-turn - The officer asks the driver to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. Then the driver must turn on one foot, and take nine steps in the opposite direction. This task tests the driver’s coordination and ability to follow directions and verbal commands. 
  • One-leg stand - The officer asks the driver to stand with one foot approximately raised approximately 6 inches off the ground and count out loud starting at 1,001 (one-thousand-one, one thousand two, etc.) until the officer tells the motorist to stop. This tests the driver’s ability to balance on one foot, as well as the ability to speak and count clearly. 

Margin for Error

Many people dispute the accuracy of field sobriety testing since it is subjective, relying somewhat on a police officer’s opinion and personal judgment. They may consider such aspects as the driver’s behavior, speech, and ability to follow directions as a basis for determining whether the person was driving while intoxicated.

Conditions that might cause a driver to look like he or she is intoxicated can lead to an innocent person being charged with a DUI. For example, someone with inner ear damage such from vertigo might have difficulty balancing or walking in a straight line. If someone is obese or has a chronic illness, he or she may not be able to pass the physical parts of the test. A speech impediment could also be mistaken for drunken, slurred speech. Furthermore, cognitive conditions or anxiety might cause a person to have difficulty understanding directions or performing the tests correctly. 

Most of today’s police cars are equipped with video cameras, which can record the officer administering the field sobriety tests on the driver. This footage can be reviewed by an attorney in order to identify whether or not the tests were conducted properly. If the video shows that an officer made a mistake during the tests or the driver performed well but was still charged with a DUI, the arrest may be deemed invalid by the court. With the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, this type of evidence can be used in a driver’s defense to reduce or eliminate the charges altogether.

Contact a Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Drunk driving initiatives are sweeping the country in an effort to reduce injuries and fatalities. Some of these measures include DUI stops or checkpoints. If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI, it is important to know your rights regarding field sobriety testing. That is why it is crucial to discuss your case with a seasoned Joliet DUI defense attorney who will aggressively represent you and defend your right to driving privileges. Call our office today at 815-727-0100 to schedule your free consultation. 

 

Sources:

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=062500050K11-501

https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

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