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Attacking Field Sobriety Tests In DUI Cases

Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence In Ohio

In Ohio, driving under the influence is termed “operating a vehicle under the influence” (OVI) instead of “driving under the influence” (DUI).

If you or a loved one are facing Ohio OVI/DUI charges, you need a lawyer that will stand by your side through every stage of your case.

An Ohio OVI/DUI arrest can bring with it a laundry list of legal issues.  Always remember that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Cincinnati DUI lawyers understand that a way to challenge Ohio OVI/DUI charges is to poke holes in the way law enforcement officers administer field sobriety tests.  Often, attention to detail in diligently gathering relevant facts regarding the administration of field sobriety tests can make a difference in your case.

Attacking Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are a staple in most Ohio OVI/DUI investigations.  Importantly, under Ohio law, you are not required to submit to an FST.  If, however, you agree to an FST, the investigating officer will first ask you to exit your car. From this point forward, the officer will be paying close attention to your actions and behavior during the exit sequence which will, in his or her mind, provide evidence of your alleged intoxication.

Generally, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (the federal administration that governs FSTs) FSTs encompass a series of physical tests administered by a detaining officer — for example, instructing a suspect to stand on one leg, walk a straight line, follow an object closely with his or her eyes. Some offices also use FSTs such as counting backward or reciting a portion of the English alphabet.  These FSTs are not, however, tests that have been deemed reliable by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The three most common standardized FSTs administered in Ohio are (1) the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN); (2) the Walk and Turn test (WAT); and (3) the One Leg Stand test (OLS).

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) refers to an involuntary jerking occurring as the suspect’s eyes gaze towards the side. The suspect experiencing the Nystagmus is generally unaware that the jerking is occurring. Involuntary jerking becomes readily noticeable when an individual is consumed by large amounts of alcohol. Prosecutors can and do use HGNs as evidence of intoxication.

The Walk and Turn Test

The Walk and Turn test (WAT) generally encompasses the administering officer instructing a suspect to assume a “heel-to-toe” stance and to follow a series of verbal instructions (which usually entail walking in a particular sequence).

The One Leg Stand Test

The One Leg Stand test (OLS) generally encompasses the administering officer telling a suspect to stand with his or her feet together and then to raise one leg approximately six inches off of the ground, keeping the raised foot parallel to the ground.

What Happens When An Officer Believes You Have Not Performed The Field Sobriety Tests Satisfactorily?

Most likely you will be placed under arrest for driving under the influence.  You will likely be handcuffed, searched for weapons and drugs, and placed in the back of the arresting officer’s car and taken to jail for a stationary breath test.

It is important to understand that FSTs are not exactly administered with fairness in mind, and because of this, FSTs can be attacked on numerous grounds.

Discrediting Or Suppressing FSTs Generally

Cincinnati DUI lawyers understand that suppressing damaging evidence — such as an FST — can be obtained by asking the judge to rule that FST evidence should not be admitted whatsoever. This procedure is called a “motion to suppress.”  Generally, Ohio courts will grant motions to suppress FST evidence if it can be shown that the administering officer failed to follow proper procedures. Ohio law requires offices to “substantially comply” with the procedures set forth in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration student manual.

Some of the most common reasons that can result in a judge granting a motion to suppress include the administering officer’s failure to perform the test on dry, level ground without litter or other obstacles in your way; or the administering officer’s failure to explain the test properly.

Failing Because Of A Lack of Physical Agility

Because FSTs are mainly physical exercises, persons who are young and athletic have a distinct advantage. Cincinnati DUI lawyers know that, if you are out of shape or have certain physical disadvantages, you have an argument that your sobriety may not have been the only factor at play during the administration of your FST.

Discrediting FSTs As Weak Evidence

Cincinnati DUI lawyers know that, even when done correctly, FSTs are generally considered weak evidence in court.  Juries do not attach a lot of weight to FSTs, especially when there is no other evidence.  If you were nervous when you completed an FST and made a few minor mistakes (such as a minor stumble), a Cincinnati DUI lawyer could pressure the prosecutor by suggesting that this evidence won’t hold up in court.