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Connecticut DUI indicators: The use of field sobriety tests

With technology in place that measures the alcohol content in blood, why are roadside physical tests still used to evaluate Willimantic County driver sobriety? Remember, officers must have probable cause to make a drunk driving arrest. Field sobriety tests can add ammunition to a DUI claim in court.

Some tests may be familiar, even to Connecticut drivers who've never been suspected of an OUI offense. Standardized field sobriety tests depend upon a reduction of physical abilities, presumably due to the influence of alcohol.

An officer will ask drivers to follow the path of an object with their eyes, as the object is passed side to side. Drivers can flunk the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus by failing to track the object smoothly. Officers also look for impairment-related irregularities in a natural eye twitch that occurs at certain angles of peripheral vision.

HGN tests have been shown to be up to 88 percent accurate in detecting drivers with blood alcohol content levels of 0.08 percent, the legal limit, or higher. The same tests also can indicate the use of certain drugs.

Drivers may be asked to take one-leg stand tests, which entail raising one foot off the ground while counting for 30 seconds. Intoxication indicators include dropping the lifted foot, hopping, swaying and correcting balance by using the arms. Accuracy is as high as 83 percent.

A third walk-and-turn test gauges how well a driver's response to walking in a straight line -- the test taker is ordered to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps, turn and repeat the process. Officers watch for missteps, balancing and turning problems and a failure to follow instructions. Test accuracy is as high as 79 percent and when combined with the other tests, is up to 91 percent.

The tests themselves are not foolproof. Neither are assessments of test givers. Criminal defense attorneys can challenge the admissibility and accuracy of field sobriety tests.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Standardized Field Sobriety Testing" accessed Jan. 28, 2015

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