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Travis A. Newton (Newton & Campbell Law)

Why Flawed Science Leads to Unfair Arrests for Driving Under the Influence


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Travis A. Newton DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney, 111 Sharpe Street Anderson, SC 29621

Standardized Field Sobriety

To Learn more about the flawed science behind Standardized Field Sobriety Tests as well as the Breathalyzer contact DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney Travis A. Newton at (864) 965-9148

During a traffic stop many motorists experience fear and nervousness. Often times fear will manifest itself in a way similar to sudden unexpected danger inducing a sudden surge of adrenaline from the Amygdala region of the Brain causing innocent motorists to mimic signs of impairment.  Other flaws with Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are lack of accountability for gender, education level, fitness level, fatigue, past experience with law enforcement, lighting, weather, roadside conditions, traffic conditions, coordination, and many other factors.

DUI detection procedure and Standardized Field Sobriety Tests were developed by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in an attempt to identify impaired drivers. The State of South Carolina has adopted NHTSA procedures as a key determining factor to identify impaired drivers.  Unfortunately, many sober and innocent motorists also "fail" NHTSA's Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Below is an example of what many motorists refer to as "the pen test" or "the eye test." The official name is The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test.

​​ During a DUI investigation Police Officers are trained to instruct the motorist to follow a stimulus (i.e. pen, flashlight, or finger) with the motorists' eyes and eyes only without moving the motorist's head.

So does a motorist pass The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test if the motorist is able to perform exactly as instructed by the officer? Probably not. As shown in the video above Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing in the pupil of the eye. The police officer administering the test is NOT trained to inform the motorists that the actual purpose of the test is to identify Nystagmus and therefore many motorists believe they passed the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test by doing exactly as the officer has instructed.

 Alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs will cause Nystagmus. Given that Nystagmus is involuntary it would seem that The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test is a perfect way to determine if a motorist is impaired. The problem is that alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs are not the only substances that cause Nystagmus. According to NHTSA training materials there are 40  substances that can and will cause involuntary nystagmus. Some of these substances are caffeine, nicotine, and aspirin. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is not admissible as courtroom evidence in some states but not only is The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus admissible in South Carolina it must also be captured on video except in very rare circumstances.