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DUI "Field Sobriety Tests"-What Are They?

Posted Wednesday, March 1, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

Unlike blood alcohol content (BAC) or other DUI tests, field sobriety tests are voluntary in Washington and most other states. In many cases, you can decline to take one. The key is in determining whether or not the field sobriety tests as administered are valid evidence. These tests are usually used when a person is stopped on the suspicion of drinking and driving.

The most common Field Sobriety Tests (FST’s) are:

  1. One-Leg-Stand Test

  2. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

  3. Walk and Turn (WAT) Test

History of Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration created a standardized model for field sobriety testing in 1981. The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) uses three tests in combination, and the NHTSA recommends that all law enforcement agencies use this standardized program and the associated training.This standardized testing system - a system that NHTSA has deemed the most reliable of the available field tests - can be a DUI defense in an area where the standardized tests aren’t used.

Even where the standardized test is used, there may be some errors in the test. The SFST was designed to help officers measure the appropriateness of making a DUI arrest, not necessarily as evidence to prove that a driver was intoxicated. According to 1998 data from the NHTSA, the combination of three tests used together was only accurate in 91% of DUI cases. The arresting officer is wrong in 9 out of every 100 field sobriety tests - and those were the rates for the officers who volunteered DUI arrest records.

Not all officers who use the SFST as a preliminary DUI assessment have been properly trained to administer and interpret the test. Accurate administration of the three tests according to NHTSA procedures requires that an officer follow strict guidelines. All three tests must be administered under certain conditions.

Field sobriety tests can become a critical piece of evidence in a DUI case when a BAC or breath test was refused or the test has been found to be unreliable and suppressed.Some DUI courts may admit field sobriety tests that were administered imperfectly and let the DUI attorney argue the inaccuracy. Other DUI courts have ruled tests not administered

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Washington State Senate Votes to Make 4th DUI a Felony – For 6th Time

Posted Tuesday, February 28, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

The Washington State Senate voted 41-0 Thursday morning to make the fourth DUI a felony. This was the sixth time the Senate has given such a measure a unanimous vote since 2015. The previous five times, House leaders declined to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote.

Senate Bill 5037 would allow the fourth offense in Washington to be charged as a Class C felony. A person with three prior convictions for driving under the influence or related offenses, and no other criminal history, would be subject to a sentencing range of 13 to 17 months’ incarceration.

An analysis by the state Office of Financial Management estimates that 192 new felony cases would be tried in county superior courts each year.

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DUI Case Dismissed-No Probable Cause to Stop

Posted Thursday, February 23, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

Great outcome in a DUI case where client provided a breath test below the legal limit but was still charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol. The officer stopped my client for failing to stop at a stop sign. We challenged the stop before a judge and argued the client did, in fact stop at the stop sign. In-car video from the police car appeared to support my client’s contention that she stopped. In cross examining the police officer, he admitted, to his credit, that due to some visual issues, he could not be sure whether client stopped at the stop sign or not. Judge found lack of probable cause to stop and case dismissed!

City of Seattle v. M.L.G.

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The “Warrant” Requirement in a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Case

Posted Wednesday, February 22, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

So when does the State need a warrant to draw and test your blood for alcohol or drugs? The case of Missouri v. McNeely (2013) is the primary reason because it required police to, at the very least attempt to secure a search warrant before taking a person’s blood for testing. The McNeely court concluded that even though alcohol concentrations in the blood dissipates over time, that factor along does not constitute an “exigent circumstance” exception to the search warrant requirement . “Exigent circumstances” can include police not being able to reach a judge or when a warrant would simply be impractical based on the situation.

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Court Rules “Bad Tow, Bad Search”

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2017 by Andrew Charles Huff

Police officers are authorized to order a vehicle towed under certain situations such as after an arrest for DUI. But what about in cases where the driver is not under arrest and being transported to the hospital after an accident?

The scope of this “towing” authority was challenged in a case before the Court of Appeals-Division II after Ms Martha Froehlich’s vehicle was towed by police and her purse subsequently searched, resulting in drugs being found. In defending the search, the State argued that the search was a lawful “inventory search” following the impoundment of Froehlich’s vehicle.

Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit warrantless searches unless one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One exception to the warrant requirement is a non-investigatory, good faith inventory search of an impounded vehicle. However, an inventory search of an impounded vehicle is lawful only if the officer lawfully impounded the vehicle. Law enforcement may lawfully impound a vehicle for three reasons: (1) as evidence of a crime, (2) under the community caretaking function, or (3) when the driver has committed a “traffic offense for which the legislature has expressly authorized impoundment.” But even if one of these reasons exists, an officer may impound a vehicle only if there are no reasonable alternatives.

The “community caretaking” function allows law enforcement to lawfully impound a vehicle when, for example, it impedes traffic or threatens public safety and no one else is available to move the vehicle. But the issue here involves the second requirement, whether Froehlich, her spouse, or her friends were available to move the vehicle.

The Court found that for impounding Froehlich’s car to be lawful under the community caretaking function, the officer was required to at least consider whether Froehlich, her spouse, or her friends were available to move the car from the scene. But there is no evidence the officer asked Froehlich about arranging to have someone else remove the car as an alternative to impoundment.

Therefore, the Court found that the impoundment was not lawful and the resulting search was improper because under the community caretaking exception because the State did not prove that the officer did not consider all reasonable alternatives to having the vehicle towed.

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