VIDEO – Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

You’ve been stopped for DUI and the officer asks you to follow their finger with your eyes? What is this horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test? And can it even be passed? That is the subject of today’s Peach State Lawyer video blog.

Hello, I’m attorney Scott Smith and today I’m standing in our mock trial courtroom. We’re talking about being asked out of your car after only having two drinks. The officer asks you to face him and with your hands by your side, feet shoulder width apart to follow his pen with your eyes. He asks you if you wear glasses or contacts or if you’ve had any recent head injuries. You’re about to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test. It’s commonly known as the HGN test, or in the DUI world, the “eye” test.

What is this test?

The horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test was originally designed by optometrists to diagnose medical issues within your eyes. The test checks for the involuntary jerking of your eye as your eyes move side to side horizontal to the floor following an object. Researchers determined some substances, particularly ethyl alcohol, and other central nervous system depressants, inhalants, and the drug PCP can cause horizontal gaze nystagmus in your eyes after use.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test, when properly performed looks for six clues of impairment. In Georgia DUI investigations, this test is the first of the standardized field sobriety evaluations.

Before the test can be performed on anyone, the officer is supposed to make sure both of your pupils are of equal size and your eyes move together from side to side. If you are having eye issues, the officer is supposed to discontinue the test immediately.

The clues are established in pairs. There are three tests performed that look for clues of impairment. The first test, called lack of smooth pursuit, is performed by the officer moving his finger back and forth across your field of vision, checking for nystagmus in both eyes as his finger or pen light is moving.

Because your eyes work together, each clue will be present in both eyes. If the officer says they notice a clue in one eye but not the other, the test would not be valid.

The second test is called distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation. It is where the officer moves his finger to the edge of your field of vision and holds it there for a minimum of four seconds to determine if your eye continues to exhibit sustained jerking when it is fixed on his finger at the edge of your field of vision.

These tests are designed to build upon each other, so you should never see clues present for distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation unless clues are present for lack of smooth pursuit.

The third and final test is called onset of nystagmus prior to a forty-five degree angle. The test is performed by the officer moving his finger slowly from the center of your field of vision until they reach a forty-five degree angle. When the officer begins to see nystagmus they are supposed to stop their finger and hold it to confirm the sustained jerking of the eye.

That’s it. That’s the entire horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test. There’s nothing you can do to pass it. It’s all about the involuntary jerking of the eye and trusting that the officer in his report has documented his observations accurately.

As you can imagine, there are things that an experienced attorney can look for to determine whether the tests are performed correctly. If the tests are not performed correctly, an experienced DUI attorney can ensure the test should not be admitted into evidence or at trial against you.

Have you been recently arrested for DUI and asked to take this eye test? Do you have questions about the test? We’re available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to talk to you. Call us today for a free consultation. Our telephone number is 404-581-0999.

Thank you.

Georgia Analysis of Utah vs. Strieff Decision

by Ryan Walsh

The Fourth amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Traditionally, evidence found after a 4th amendment violation is excluded under what is known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. That is, any evidence recovered after a fourth amendment violation occurs is suppressed by the court and cannot be used against the defendant in his case. However, in the last ten years the United States Supreme Court has limited this exclusionary “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine to situations where exclusion is the last resort by highlighting a number of exceptions. ryan-walsh

Exceptions to the exclusionary rule under federal law include when an officer acts in good faith in what he believes is a legal search, when evidence is acquired through an independent source, when evidence would inevitably been discovered without the unconstitutional source, and the attenuation doctrine. The attenuation doctrine states that evidence is admissible when the connection between the 4th amendment violation and the evidence found is distant or the connection between the 4th amendment violation has been interrupted by a change in circumstances. The recent United States Supreme Court opinion, Utah vs. Strieff directly addresses the attenuation doctrine, creating situations where intervening circumstances cause Georgia citizens to be subject to searches and seizures that would otherwise be unreasonable under the Fourth amendment of the United States Constitution. Utah vs. Strieff, 579 U.S. ___ (2016).

In Utah, Edward Strieff left a home on foot that had been tied to drug activity and walked to a gas station. Officer Fackrell, who had been surveilling the home, approached Strieff, identified himself, asked Strieff for identification, detained him, and then questioned him regarding what he was doing at the residence. Officer Fackrell gave Strieff’s information to a police dispatcher, who told Fackrell that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Strieff was arrested and a search of his person was performed incident to the arrest, where Officer Fackrell found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia on Strieff. Strieff then moved to suppress the evidence of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The State of Utah conceded that Officer Fackrell did not have reasonable suspicion for the stop, but argued that because of the arrest warrant, the connection between the unlawful stop and the search had been attenuated and the search incident to arrest and seizure were valid under the Fourth Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court agreed with the State of Utah. Despite the fact that the stop of Strieff was unlawful, the Court held that the valid arrest warrant created a change in circumstances that “attenuated” the illegal stop from the valid search and seizure. In looking towards whether there was a sufficient change in circumstances between the conduct that violated the fourth amendment and the discovery of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia on Strieff, the Court looked to three factors. The three factors are (1) “the temporal proximity between the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of the evidence, (2) the presence of intervening circumstances, and (3) the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct.” Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 603-604 (1975). The Court found that factor one favored Strieff in that the time between the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of evidence was very brief. But the Court found that factors two and three favored the State. The existence of a valid arrest warrant was a significant intervening circumstance, and that Officer Fackrell was at most negligent in his stopping of Strieff outside the gas station. In discussing Officer Fackrell’s negligence, the Court addresses what they call his “good-faith mistakes.” Therefore, the evidence seized by Officer Fackrell was admissible at trial against Strieff. Now that we’ve analyzed the law applied by the United States Supreme Court, is the holding in Utah v. Strieff applicable to Georgia citizens?

Georgia’s restrictions on searches and seizures are greater than the protections provided by the United States Government. Georgia codified their exclusionary rule in O.C.G.A. §17-5-30. The language in that statute provides no good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Further, Georgia courts don’t officially recognize any specific exceptions to the exclusionary rule, but they do offer their rationale in determining whether evidence that could be excluded as “fruit of the poisonous tree” will be excluded. That rationale is most clearly articulated in Vergara v. State. Vergara v. State, 283 Ga 175 (2008). In Vergara, the Supreme Court of Georgia says, “Under the fruits doctrine as

explicated by the (United States) Supreme Court and adopted by this Court, we need not hold that all evidence is ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ simply because it would not have come to light but for the illegal actions of the police. … The more apt question … is ‘whether… the evidence … has been come at by exploitation of that illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged by the primary taint.’” Vergara, at 182-183.

Applying the absence of a good-faith exception along with the guidance provided in Vergara, it’s unclear what Georgia courts would do if presented with the facts of Strieff. Edward Strieff was approached by Officer Fackrell and asked for his identification, which he provided. Fackrell ran his identification and saw the outstanding warrant, arrested, Strieff, and found the contraband. Because there is no good-faith exception to unreasonable searches and seizures under Georgia law, Officer Fackrell cannot be said to be merely negligent in his stop of Strieff. The evidence was clearly found as a direct result of the bad stop. And the evidence is of the sort that may not have been found independently or inevitably. There are strong arguments that this sort of evidence is still fruit of the poisonous tree under Georgia’s application of the Fourth Amendment.

However, until Georgia addresses this issue, it is unclear whether a valid arrest warrant can trigger a search incident to arrest for an otherwise unlawful stop. If you’ve been arrested and feel your Georgia rights have been violated, call the Peach State Lawyer today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.