Thursday, June 9, 2011

Field Sobriety Tests in Utah DUI Cases

A DUI in Utah is not like a DUI in California. Utah has some severe penalties, most notably that you cannot receive a temporary driver license for work or school if your driver license is suspended based on the DUI. Also, there are minimum mandatory jail sentences on DUI's ranging from 2 days to 62.5 days depending on the type of DUI.

Because they are serious offenses in Utah, if you are charged with a DUI, your attorney must attack every facet of the case. No stone must be left unturned. One of the areas your DUI attorney must look at are the Field Sobriety Tests.

The FST's

There are three standardized field sobriety tests used in most jurisdictions: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the nine-step walk and turn, and the one leg stand.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus is the officer causing the eye to track in a certain direction so that he can observe an involuntary jerking in the eye. They check smooth pursuit from right to left, sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation, and onset of nystagmus prior to a 45 degree angle.

The problem with the nystagmus test is that there are a whole host of other causes of nystagmus. Aspirin, caffeine, exposure to cigarette smoke just to name a few. Studies have also shown that a certain percentage of the population is born with naturally occurring nystagmus.

In the nine-step walk and turn, the subject is to walk down a line, turn and walk back. Easy enough, right? Wrong. These tests are not about walking in a straight line, they are about following instructions. The one leg stand is similar as the subject is told to stand on one leg and count to thirty. However, the officer couldn't care less whether you do it well, he's looking for very minute clues. Were your feet more than half an inch apart? Did your arms go above six inches? Did you turn to the left instead of the right? These are the type of details that determine whether you pass or fail the field sobriety tests.

The FST's are not science. They are subjective tests used by law enforcement to make arrests. You do have good DUI police officers who are out there making the best decisions they can with the tools they have, but these tests produce too many false positives to be relied on in criminal cases.

Hire a good DUI attorney if facing a DUI and make sure they fight the accuracy of these tests. Many cases have been won by exposing the subjectivity in these tests.

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