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Examining Ohio Law: Part Four - Field Sobriety Tests Continued

Yesterday, DiCaudo, Pitchford & Yoder presented the third installment in its St. Patrick's Day series on OVI/DUI law in Ohio. That post discussed Standardized Field Sobriety Tests ("SFST"), specifically, the standards for administration of the tests and admissibility of results in court. This installment delves a little deeper in the details of each of the three SFST's, including what they consist of and some common problems in their administration and results.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus ("HGN") is the involuntary jerking of an individual's eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Normally, nystagmus only occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol-impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object.

In the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of a suspect as the suspect follows a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally with his or her eyes. The examiner looks for three indicators, or "clues", of impairment in each eye:

  1. Is the eye following the moving object smoothly?
  2. Is there jerking of the eye is at maximum deviation, i.e. the farthest point it can move to the side?
  3. Is the angle at which the jerking begins within 45 degrees of center

If the officer observes four or more clues, the individual is presumed likely to have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater. The most often raised challenges to the HGN test are that it fails to account for various health conditions, such as inner ear problems, influenza, hypertension, arthritis, and glaucoma, that have been proven to affect an individual's performance. Further, the use of items like aspirin, antihistamines, caffeine, and nicotine can also cause signs of nystagmus.

Walk and Turn Test

The Walk and Turn Test ("WTT") is often referred to as a "divided attention" test, that, under normal circumstances, are easily performed by most people. The theory behind a divided attention test is that impaired people have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention for both mental and physical exercises.

In the WTT, the individual is instructed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot and return in the same manner to the beginning point. In the WTT, there are eight clues indicating impairment:

  1. Poor balance while listening to the instructions.
  2. Beginning before instructed to do so.
  3. Stopping to regain balance.
  4. Failing to touch heel-to-toe.
  5. Stepping off the line.
  6. Using arms to balance.
  7. Making an improper turn.
  8. Taking an incorrect number of steps.

If the officer observes two or more clues, the individual is presumed likely to have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater. The WTT has been criticized however, because the test is often administered on uneven surfaces, at night, on a surface with no actual line to walk on, or all three. Further, the test is unsuitable for people with back or leg injuries, individuals older than 65, and those with inner-ear disorders.

One Leg Stand

In the One Leg Stand Test ("OLST"), is also a divided attention test wherein the individual is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down. The test is timed for 30 seconds. In the OLST, there are four clues indicating impairment:

  1. Swaying while balancing.
  2. Using arms to balance.
  3. Hopping to maintain balance.
  4. Putting the foot down

If the officer observes two or more clues, the individual is presumed likely to have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater. Many of the same criticism made of the WTT apply to the OLST, as both can be affected by the surface they are conducted on, as well as various health conditions, discussed above, of the test-taker discussed above.

The experienced attorneys of DiCaudo, Pitchford & Yoder have extensive experience challenging the admission and validity of SFST's in OVI/DUI cases. If you have been charged with OVI/DUI in Ohio, a knowledgeable Criminal Attorney from DiCaudo, Pitchford & Yoder may be able to help. For legal advice or information, contact, the attorneys at DiCaudo, Pitchford & Yoder today.