Charged with Drunk Driving in Lenawee County - Adrian - Blissfield - Tecumseh - Clinton - Field Sobriety Tests: Are They Truly Reliable?
Lenawee County - Judge Todd M. Morgan and Laura J. Schaedler
Drunk driving is a serious offense that endangers the lives of individuals on the road. Lenawee County, located in Michigan, has been grappling with the issue of drunk driving, and the legal battles fought within the 2A District Court shed light on the flaws in field sobriety tests. In this blog post, we will examine the challenges faced by defendants, the deviations from standardized protocols, and the importance of understanding the limitations of these tests.
Field Sobriety Tests: Are They Truly Reliable?
In an ideal world, defendants would not be subjected to field sobriety tests, as these tests are designed to provide evidence of intoxication rather than assist in the defense. However, the reality is that officers often rely on these tests to justify arrests. It is crucial for defendants to be aware of the limitations of these tests and understand their rights.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) manual sanctions only three field sobriety tests. These tests include the walk and turn test, the one-legged stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. However, in Michigan, officers frequently deviate from these sanctioned tests, using improper tests such as reciting the alphabet, counting backward, or estimating time. This departure from established protocols raises questions about the accuracy and fairness of the test results.
Flaws in Field Sobriety Tests
Walk and Turn Test: This test requires defendants to walk heel to toe and turn. However, even sober individuals often struggle to fully comply with its strict requirements. Minor deviations, such as losing balance, starting or ending early, or failing to touch heel to toe on each step, can result in a failed test. Consequently, the reliability of this test as an indicator of intoxication is questionable.
One-Legged Stand: In this test, defendants are instructed to stand on one leg for about 30 seconds. However, this test is challenging for many individuals, especially those with physical conditions or within specific age groups. Swaying, hopping, or using arms for balance can lead to a failed test. It is crucial for defense attorneys to question the assumption that the results of this test are reliable.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: This test relies on observing involuntary eye jerking, which is believed to be caused by alcohol consumption. However, the test's subjectivity and the officers' limited training in conducting eye examinations raise concerns about its accuracy. Various factors other than alcohol consumption can cause eye jerking, making it an unreliable indicator of intoxication.
Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) and its Implications
Alongside field sobriety tests, the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) plays a significant role in justifying arrests. However, officers often fail to provide clear information about the consequences of refusing this test. It is essential for defendants to understand their rights and the potential outcomes of refusing the PBT.
Refusing the PBT usually results in a civil infraction with minimal consequences. However, officers may mislead defendants by implying that a refusal will lead to severe penalties. Taking the PBT can potentially strengthen the officer's case, as a positive result combined with evidence of driving provides substantial grounds for a legal arrest. The decision to take the test should be made carefully, considering the specific circumstances of each case.
Utilizing PBT Results Strategically
If a PBT is administered, defense attorneys can explore its potential benefits by analyzing the rise or fall in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. When challenging a High BAC/Super Drunk offense in Michigan, where a BAC above 0.17 is required for prosecution, defense attorneys can arguethat a rising BAC level suggests that the defendant's BAC was below the legal limit at the time of driving. By presenting PBT results alongside subsequent Datamaster results, defense attorneys can highlight the fluctuation in BAC levels and cast doubt on the prosecution's ability to prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt.
Admissibility of PBT Results
Introducing PBT results into the case requires adhering to specific exceptions outlined in Michigan law. Defense attorneys can utilize the second exception, which allows the defendant to offer the PBT result as evidence of their BAC to counter testimony suggesting a higher BAC at the time of the offense. By skillfully cross-examining the DataMaster operator or persuading the prosecution's witness, defense attorneys may succeed in having the PBT results admitted in court.
Challenges and Fairness
It is important to note that PBT results are not automatically admissible due to their perceived lower reliability compared to the Datamaster. PBT devices often lack regular calibration and may be exposed to extreme temperatures for prolonged periods. However, by understanding the result's context and its potential impact on the case, defense attorneys can strategically use the PBT results to benefit their clients.
The issue of drunk driving and the use of field sobriety tests in Lenawee County's 2A District Court raises concerns about the reliability and fairness of these tests. Defendants must be aware of their rights and the limitations of the tests conducted by law enforcement officers. By questioning deviations from standardized protocols and strategically utilizing PBT results, defense attorneys can challenge arrests and create opportunities for favorable outcomes. It is essential to advocate for a fair and just legal process that upholds the rights of all parties involved.
The main cities and villages in Lenawee County, Michigan which are covered by the 2A District Court, are: Addison, Adrian, Blissfield, Britton, Cement City, Clayton, Clinton, Deerfield, Hudson, Jasper, Manitou Beach, Morenci, Onsted, Palmyra, Riga, Sand Creek, Tecumseh, Tipton, Weston.
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