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Failed field sobriety tests do not always prove intoxication

Facing charges stemming from a drunk driving stop can be very upsetting. No one wants to be at risk of dealing with increased insurance premiums, fines, license suspension and even jail time. But these are the penalties that anyone charged with DUI in Arizona can be facing if convicted.

Having the support of an attorney can be crucial if you are in this situation. A legal representative can help you challenge the charges by scrutinizing the arrest. For example, there may be reason to suspect that police failed to properly execute field sobriety tests.

These tests consist of three different parts: horizontal gaze nystagmus, standing on one leg and the walk-and-turn. An error made by law enforcement during these tests could result in a reduction or dismissal of charges.

For example, police may wrongly conclude that a person is intoxicated if they have trouble tracking a moving object smoothly, which can be observed during the HGN test. However, a sober driver could fail this test if he or she has vision problems, eye impairments or medical conditions that require certain medications.

Standing on one leg is a test that measures a person's ability to balance. An inability to complete this test could be a sign of impairment, but it could also be a result of several other factors. Uneven testing surfaces, footwear and physical limitations could also cause a person to fail this test.

The walk-and-turn test is used to determine whether a driver is able to divide his or her attention and can follow instructions. But if a person does not comprehend English well or has intellectual limitations, he or she could fail this test even if they are not intoxicated.

These field sobriety tests are not an exact science. In fact, there are many instances when drivers are wrongfully charged with DUI because of inaccurate conclusions. They also require that police officers execute the tests in a specific fashion; failure to do so could call the resulting charges into question.

If you have been accused of drunk driving as a result of failed sobriety tests, you may be wise to consider speaking with an attorney in order to understand your rights and challenge the charges.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Standardized Field Sobriety Testing," accessed on Oct. 1, 2014

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