Getting pulled over by the police or Georgia State Patrol can be a frightening and nerve-wracking experience, even if you weren't doing anything wrong. Then, if the officers ask you to start taking eye tests without explaining what they're looking for, you will feel more nervous. The police may already be treating you like you're guilty, without explaining why, and without giving you a fair chance to show that you're okay to drive.
HGN Eye Test in Atlanta
The eye test that police in Georgia will try to make you do is actually a field sobriety test called the the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN). This is one of the three standardized field sobriety tests created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to test whether a person may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The officers may just say that they are looking at your eyes, without telling you that you have the right to refuse this test.
Conducting the Eye Test
When testing a driver's eyes, the police will be looking for signs of impairment. More specifically, they will be looking for the eye to react in certain ways that they will diagnose as alcohol impairment. The officer will ask the driver to use their eyes to follow the movement of some small object, like a pen. The officer will move the pen back and forth, watching the driver's eyes. The police are trained to look for an involuntary jerking movement of the eyes, called a “nystagmus.” Because the movement is involuntary, you will have no idea whether you “passed” or “failed” this test, according to the individual police officer's interpretation.
How are the Police Trained to Conduct an Eye Test?
There are specific instructions police are supposed to give when conducting an HGN eye test. They are trained to do the test in a very specific way, and to look for very specific criteria. Unfortunately, they don't always do things the right way, which can mean you failed the test even if you weren't impaired.
The police undergo a training course developed with the NHTSA, and take occasional refresher courses, but after doing hundreds or thousands of these tests, do you think the police may get it wrong sometimes? It is not fair for someone to be taken to jail because the police officer's didn't give them a fair chance when they used these inaccurate tests against them. Understanding just what these training courses entail, and how to properly use testing is imperative to making sure your rights are not violated.
It is important for your DUI defense lawyer who practice exclusive DUI and alcohol related violations to be certified in field sobriety tests, just like the police.
Correct HGN Eye Test Instructions
Police officers are trained to give specific instructions and carefully conduct and observe the HGN eye test, otherwise, the results won't mean anything. The HGN eye test is supposed to be done in a well lit area, or with proper lighting to the driver's eyes can be clearly seen, taking off glasses if applicable. The police are supposed to ask about any medical issues which could impact the test. They are also supposed to move the object slowly back 12 to 15 inches from the driver's face, slightly above eye level. If this process is not followed, the HGN eye test could be inaccurate, and unfairly make the driver appear impaired.
Is the HGN Eye Test Accurate?
The NHTSA says the HGN test is one of the most accurate of the standard field sobriety tests, but that does not make it 100% accurate. It is not even 90% accurate. And if the driver has a medical condition, if there are distractions, or if the police don't do it exactly as they are supposed to, the results get less and less reliable. For some people, their natural eye reactions may make an Atlanta police officer think they are intoxicated even when they are completely sober.
Atlanta, Georgia DUI Defense
Failing a field sobriety eye test does not mean that you are guilty of drunk driving. There are many ways to challenge the results of these tests, to make sure that you don't get a criminal record for doing nothing wrong. I have the same Standardized Field Sobriety Testing training as local police officers. If you have been charged with driving under the influence, give me a call as soon as you can. We will talk about what happened, and how we can make sure you get the fair treatment you deserve.