NHTSA Standards and DWI

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) was developed in the 1970s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in order to provide law enforcement agencies with a standardized and empirically grounded way to determine whether drivers were intoxicated (leading to a DWI charge). The SFST is actually comprised of three distinct tests, which include:

  • The One Leg Stand
  • The Walk and Turn
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The SFST is often used by police to gather evidence in support of their suspicion that a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. The results of field sobriety tests are not conclusive, however, and there are often ways to challenge them. For this reason, anyone that has been arrested after performing the field sobriety tests should have an attorney review their case immediately.

Failure to Meet NHSTA Standards Can Result in Unreliable Evidence

In 1981, NHTSA promulgated federal standards for field sobriety testing based on the results of research. The research determined that when the tests were conducted in a certain way, they could identify drivers who were intoxicated with a certain degree of probability. The standards developed by the agency dictate the way that the tests should administered as well as the signs of intoxication for which officers should look while the tests are being conducted.

When law enforcement officers deviate from these standards, it can result in unreliable evidence – and when evidence is unreliable, it can often be suppressed or excluded from your case. As a result, if your attorney can establish that NHTSA standards were not followed during your traffic stop, it can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case against you and achieve a better result.

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Other Defenses to SFST Results

Even in cases in which the SFST was performed in accordance with NHTSA standards, the evidence gathered can still be challenged. For example, nystagmus is a medical condition in which the eyes make repetitive involuntary movements. While it can certainly be caused by alcohol intoxication, it can also be caused by many other things as well, such as the flashing lights from a police car or having been in a serious car accident. Similarly, while people who have been drinking alcohol may demonstrate a lack of balance during the one leg stand, an ear infection or other physical ailments can also affect a person’s balance.

These are just a few examples of ways in which symptoms caused by other conditions could be mistaken for signs of impairment. DWI defenses are not readily apparent to the untrained eye, so it is imperative for anyone facing a DWI case to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

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Call a St. Louis DWI Defense Law Firm Today

If you have been accused of drunk driving in the St. Louis area, you should contact an attorney as soon as you can. The assistance of an attorney will have a significant impact on the way that a DWI case is resolved and may result in the entire case being dropped or dismissed. To schedule a free consultation with a St. Louis drunk driving defense lawyer, contact Muhlenkamp & Bernsen at 314-499-7255.

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