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Big Win for DUI Defense and What it Means for You

In November, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling which marks a major victory for the United States and Georgia Constitutions, as well as folks charged with driving under the influence. In Ammons v. State, the Court held that suspects have the right to refuse an officer’s request to perform a preliminary breath test and field sobriety tests. What is more, is that the Court stated that refusal to take the tests is inadmissible under Georgia law.

The Constitution of Georgia protects citizens rights against self-incrimination. In Georgia, the government, including police and prosecutors cannot force you to speak or act in ways that could result in criminal consequences. Before the Georgia Supreme Court issued its decision in Ammons, however, the prosecution could introduce evidence that a suspect declined to take part in field sobriety tests at the request of an officer. The purpose of introducing refusals of field sobriety tests was to indicate to the jury or judge that the suspect refused to perform fields because they guilty. This is an improper purpose, and because of the Ammons decision, the State cannot try to convince the jury of your guilt based on your refusal because it is a constitutional right to refuse to offer incriminating evidence against yourself.

So what does this mean for you? This means that if you are stopped by police and asked to perform field sobriety tests, it may be in your best interests to refuse to do so, particularly if you have been drinking or have a history of DUI arrests.

Of course, if you are reading this blog, you may have already been charged with DUI and wondering what your options are. If you have been charged with DUI and refused field sobriety tests, that refusal is not admissible. However, there may be other evidence in your case that could be admitted if gone unchallenged. You should consider hiring an experienced DUI attorney to protect your interests and ensure that the State is not able to admit evidence which was improperly or illegally obtained. If you want to learn more about your options, call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

HGN and Head Trauma

If you have been pulled over in Georgia on suspicion of DUI, the investigating officer will probably ask you to perform a battery of standardized field sobriety tests. This request may take the form of any number of questions, such as “can we just check to see if you are safe to drive?” or “we want to perform some tests before we let you on your way, is that alright?”. These tests are not required, and declining to perform these tests cannot be used against you in a prosecution of DUI. For this reason, it is better to decline to perform any tests, no matter how much reassurance the police officer gives you that they are “just to make sure you are safe on the roads.”

Still, many people opt to perform the tests, either because they don’t see the harm, they wish to be congenial with the officer, or because they don’t know that they can decline to perform the tests. If you choose to perform the tests, the officer may ask you if he can “take a look at your eyes.” This is an indication that he is about to perform the first of three standardized field sobriety tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus.

This test is considered to be a “scientific” test, and because of this, it is important that the officer comply with his training as exactly as possible. The test must begin with a number of questions designed to medically qualify the participant. The officer is trained that he must ask you whether or not you have recently had any head, neck, or brain injuries, as these kinds of trauma can affect whether someone exhibits nystagmus, even if not under the influence of alcohol. It is common practice to ask whether or not the subject has “any eye problems” or vision issues, but this is not enough. The officer must also determine that it is appropriate to use this test. If the subject has been in a recent accident, suffering from whiplash, a concussion, vertigo, or some other balance and coordination related condition, the HGN test may not be accurate or reliable.

If you have been in an accident at the time of your DUI investigation, the officer may have overlooked potential head trauma before administering this test. As a result, the “clues” of the test may be unreliable, and could be subject to suppression before trial.

It is important to understand your rights and protections when you are charged with DUI. If you want an attorney that is knowledgeable about DUI police training and procedure, call our office for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine A. Edmonds.

Should I perform Field Sobriety Tests?

If you have been pulled over for DUI, the police officer may ask you if you would consent to field sobriety evaluations. Field Sobriety Evaluations are a series of tests which are, in theory, designed to aid officers draw accurate conclusions about a suspect’s blood alcohol consumption. Despite that these tests are only around 75% accurate when administered correctly, they are still thought of as legitimate tests of a person’s intoxication level by most judges and jurors. For this reason, allegedly “poor” performance on field sobriety tests can sway jurors to convict someone for DUI, even if they are not.

So is it in your best interests to perform field sobriety tests? This is a complicated question which will vary depending on the circumstances, but generally, it is better to refuse to participate in the field sobriety evaluations, as it provides the officer with less potentially incriminating evidence. It is important to bear in mind, however, that refusal to submit to field sobriety evaluations is admissible in trial as circumstantial evidence of intoxication. Taken together with other evidence of possible intoxication (slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, admission of drinking, etc.) may support an inference that the suspect was an impaired driver.

That being said, it is easier to make an argument that the officer got it wrong when they arrested you for DUI if the only evidence they have is the smell of alcohol on your breath and bloodshot eyes than if they have evidence of poor performance on field tests. Additionally, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, the officer still has the authority to arrest you. Georgia case law has held that an officer’s observation of bloodshot, watery eyes and odor of alcohol is sufficient to support an arrest for suspected DUI. If you are pulled over for DUI, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, do not be surprised if you are arrested anyway. Instead, stay calm, make no incriminating statements, and as soon as you are able, call an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

We offer free consultations to anyone who has been charged with driving under the influence. Call us today at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.