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Drunk driving charges: Can field sobriety tests be challenged?

Drivers who are pulled over on suspicion of DUI in New York are often subjected to field sobriety tests. This is one method for law enforcement to determine whether drunk driving charges can be filed. Several potential challenges exist to use as a defense against field sobriety tests in court.

Studies have shown that these tests' reliability rate to determine alcohol impairment is not more than 91 percent, and flaws in one of the three standard tests could be argued. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is used to check for smooth movement of the eyes when following left and right moving objects, and balance is checked in two ways. The individual must walk heel-to-toe for nine steps, turn on one foot only and repeat the walk back. The officer will then count down a one-leg stand to determine the individual's ability to maintain balance.

Nonstandard tests can be unreliable and might be challenged. It is not uncommon for officers to ask a suspected DUI driver for a backward rendition of the English alphabet or to touch a finger to his or her nose. Standard test results can be skewed by the driver's psychological or medical condition. For example, even a sober person with an inner ear infection will struggle to balance on one leg as that is the area that helps with maintaining equilibrium. Neurological injuries could interfere with the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and movement or skeletal disorders can make it impossible to carry out the heel-to-toe walk.

These potential challenges show that an arrest on drunk driving charges does not mean the driver will be convicted. Seeking the support and guidance of an experienced New York DUI defense attorney as soon as possible might be the best step to take. A lawyer can assess the charges, scrutinize the test procedures and work on a strong defense strategy, aiming for the best possible outcome.

Source: FindLaw, "3 Ways to Challenge Field Sobriety Tests", Brett Snider, April 13, 2018

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