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How am I assessed under a horizontal gaze test?

Being pulled over by the police in Wisconsin can be stressful under any circumstances, but it can be even more frightening if you are accused of drunk driving. You might get nervous, act fidgety and inadvertently give an officer suspicion. Fortunately, being nervous around a police officer is not a crime. Yet, in an instance like this, you might be asked to submit to one or more of a number of field sobriety tests, the results of which could lead to drunk driving charges.

One of the most commonly used field sobriety tests is the horizontal gaze nystagmus. An individual who is intoxicated may have enhanced involuntary jerking of his or her eyes. This jerking is referred to as nystagmus. During this field sobriety test, an officer will assess your eyes to get a baseline reading on your resting nystagmus. Then, he or she will hold something like a pen or finger about 12 inches away from your nose and move it from side-to-side, instructing you to follow the object with your eyes without moving your head.

There are a number of things an officer is looking for during this process. For example, he or she will check to see if you can follow the object smoothly, if nystagmus occurs before reaching a 45 degree angle, and whether your eyes jerk in less than four seconds after looking to the side.

If you fail a horizontal gaze nystagmus, you may be charged with a crime. But this doesn't mean that you will be convicted. In fact, this field sobriety test has been shown to be inaccurate in almost a quarter of all cases. Also, there are a number of medical conditions that could result in the effects assessed as signs of intoxication by the police officer. Therefore, if you failed a field sobriety test and are now facing criminal charges and the potential of serious penalties, then you may want to do everything you can to defend yourself from prosecutors.

Source:, "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus," accessed on Sept. 17, 2016

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