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Can police error ever lead to failed sobriety testing?


Prior posts on this Wisconsin DUI defense blog have discussed the types of factors that can mirror signs of intoxication but that have nothing to do with a person's level of alcohol consumption. This week's post looks at a specific situation in which a law enforcement officer's error could lead to inaccurate results for a person's field sobriety tests. This unfortunate scenario can happen and can have dire legal consequences on the life of the affected driver.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration propounds standards that law enforcement officials should abide by when conducting field sobriety tests for suspected drunk drivers. There are three tests that make up the panel of sobriety tests officers may execute -- horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn and one-leg stand.

In any of these three tests there is room for a law enforcement official to make mistakes if he does not follow the NHTSA's standards. The law enforcement official could fail to give the driver adequate time to execute the test or the officer could ask the driver to perform the test on an uneven surface. The officer could also simply be wrong in how he sees the driver perform the test and could misinterpret results when a driver's condition is impacted by a non-alcohol related cause.

A very difficult situation arises when a sober person fails a field sobriety test. It can be challenging for the driver to overcome the presumption that he was intoxicated when he was stopped by a law enforcement official. Though no legal outcome can ever be certain, individuals who failed sobriety testing due to officer error may have legal options to overcome the erroneous evidence present in their drunk driving cases.

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