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Roadside Maneuvers in Criminal and Civil Cases

Roadside Maneuvers in Criminal and Civil Cases


Roadside Maneuvers, also known as Standard Field Sobriety Tests, are tools that law enforcement officers use to determine whether or not a motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are three principle maneuvers that the police use, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand.

The Three Standardized Maneuvers

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is a maneuver where the officer is trained to look at the suspect’s eyes in such a way as to determine whether or not they “jerk” when they are tracking a stimulus (usually the tip of a finger or pen) from side to side. The presence of jerking is a possible indicator of alcohol impairment.
The Walk and Turn is where the officer will have the suspect take a series of heel to toe steps after being instructed to keep his arms at his side and to walk in a straight line. The officer is looking for balance issues due to alcohol or drug impairment, and is also trying to determine the subject’s ability to follow directions.
The One Leg Stand is where the officer will have the suspect lift one leg about 6 inches off the ground while the suspect counts to 30. Again, the officer is looking for balance issues due to drug or alcohol impairment, and whether the suspect can follow directions. Both the Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand are called divided attention tests- the officer is not only looking for balance and control, but whether or not the suspect performed the maneuvers as instructed.

How the Results are used

These maneuvers are used by the officer to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the driver for driving under the influence. Often, the officer will record the maneuvers on a dash cam or body cam, but in many cases, there is no video showing how the offender did.
The officer can testify about the suspect’s performance maneuvers in a criminal prosecution of the suspect. Such testimony can also be admitted in a civil trial that deals with liability issues if, for example, the DUI case involved a fatal or injurious accident. The roadside maneuvers can be attacked by a defense attorney as well. For example, if a suspect who failed the maneuvers has bad knees due to an old injury, a defense attorney could present evidence that it was the injury, and not drugs or alcohol that caused poor performance.
Typically, bad roadside maneuver performance in and of itself will not be the only evidence against an at-fault DUI suspect. There will often be a blood or breath test which bolster the roadside maneuvers. If you or a loved one has been unfairly charged with a DUI using roadside sobriety maneuvers, contact DUI attorneys for a free consultation on how to move forward.

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