DC DUI Field Sobriety Tests and Breathalyzers

In a DUI trial, the influence of the field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer results depends on the specifics of the case and who is the finder of fact, or the judge. Depending on the judge, the result of these tests can weigh heavily. Many judges take into account the quality of the administration of the test.

Attorneys will want to know if the officer was qualified to administer the tests first off. When the tests are not administered properly, the results are unreliable. Police officers who administer the tests use the three standardized field sobriety tests: the HGN, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. To measure blood alcohol content, they will also administer a breathalyzer test. To best understand your rights during testing in a DC DUI stop with field sobriety tests and breathalyzers, it is important to work with a skilled DUI attorney right away.

Types of Tests

There is a specific way in which these field sobriety tests in DC DUI cases must be administered. The police officer administering the test must be certified through a class that trains them to administer the test correctly. The police officer is trained using a specific manual published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The manual provides instruction on how to administer, detect, and document the test.

 Horizontal Gaze

The first DUI test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN). It is designed to detect the involuntary movement of a person’s eyes. Everyone’s eyes move or shake a little bit involuntarily but there are some things that may cause the shaking or nystagmus to be more noticeable. There are approximately 50 things that can cause the nystagmus to be more pronounced. One is an increased use of alcohol.

There are other factors that could increase the involuntary eye movement of a person’s eyes such as flashing lights and certain types of medication. There are ways to defend against the HGN test that detects the involuntary movement of the eyes.

Walk and Turn

The second test is the walk and turn test. The police officer instructs a driver to get into a stance, walk nine steps, do a specific type of turn, and walk nine steps back. The steps are supposed to be done heel to toe.

One Leg Stand

The third test is the one-leg stand. The police officer instructs the driver to stand on one leg. The other leg is raised at least six inches above the ground with the toe pointed. The person must count while holding their leg up.

Test Refusal

A driver is under no obligation to perform the DC DUI standardized field sobriety test. However, penalties can occur when a person refuses to take a chemical test at the police station on a breathalyzer machine or refuses to submit to blood or urine testing. That results in a suspension of that person’s driving privileges in the District of Columbia, typically for one year.

Breathalyzers

A new DC DUI breath testing protocol was instituted several years ago and it appears that the reliability problems that previously existed have been resolved. There can always be a potential issue with how an individual test is administered. However, regarding the liability issues, the systemic breakdown appears to have been addressed.

Reliability

There is a common misconception that breathalyzers are accurate all the time. There are many factors that go into making a breathalyzer test accurate. They must be administered in a specific way. For example, before someone is given a breath test, a trained officer must sit with that person for 20 minutes before the test is administered to make sure they do not belch or burp.

If the person belches or burps, they could deposit mouth alcohol. Any alcohol in the person’s stomach could be belched and deposited into the person’s mouth which can result in the breath machine being bathed in alcohol and produces an improper result. There is much that can go wrong in a breathalyzer test that can result in an erroneous finding. A DUI attorney can utilize the administration of DC DUI field sobriety tests and breathalyzer testing to potentially build their defense later on in the trial.

False Positives

A breath machine is properly calibrated and must be calibrated every 30 days. The machine can provide false results if it is not properly maintained and calibrated during that timeframe. The breath test must be administered in a proper way. There must be a 20 minute waiting period, the machine must be properly cleaned, and the mouthpiece must be replaced. There are many factors that ensure the test results are accurate.

Continued Breathalyzer Use

Government experts continue to rely on breathalyzer tests in DC DUI cases because the government wants something that is definitive to show a judge or a jury that a driver was driving under the influence. It is more difficult to prove a case without that type of evidence. When the machine is properly calibrated and maintained and the test is properly administered, the results can be acceptable. The government relies on the breathalyzer machine because it is a clean way to show that someone is theoretically guilty.

Challenging Testing

There are a number of challenges a lawyer can file depending on the information they have about the machine. The lawyer begins with a discovery request by asking the government for certain information about the particular machine used for the breathalyzer test. The lawyer reviews the information to look for issues and may call an expert to analyze the information and make further requests if necessary. The lawyer can file a motion to disqualify the results because they are inherently unreliable.