According to a recent report from WCVB.com, a Lowell, Massachusetts police offer (“Defendant”) was charged in connection with a fatal DUI. Authorities are reporting that the victim was driving a mid-sized sport utility vehicle (SUV) when Defendant, in a larger SUV, crossed over the double yellow lines and crashed into his car. The 26-year-old victim was killed in the alcohol-related accident.
Defendant was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), homicide involving a DUI, and cited for several other moving violations, including driving over the double yellow lines.
As your Birmingham, Alabama DUI lawyer can explain, while this at first appears to be a homicide case, the most important job is to defend the DUI. If an attorney can fight the DUI charge and show that the driver was not impaired, than the driver cannot be found guilty of the homicide charge in what was actually just an unfortunate car accident.
There are many ways to challenge a DUI. Many DUI arrests are based upon an officer’s claim that a driver failed the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), which are authorized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These “tests” are used in every jurisdiction, including Alabama.
The SFSTs consist of three parts: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the Walk and Turn (WAT), and the One Legged Stand. Every officer who does DUI enforcement is trained by NHTSA standards in performing these tests. In reality, many officers do not know how to properly administer the test. Your attorney who regularly handles DUI cases may use his copy of the NHTSA manual to establish that the officer did not perform the test correctly.
One common example involves the HGN test. This is the test where the officer tells the suspected drunk driver to follow his or her finger, pen, or flashlight. According to the manual, the officer must hold the item (stimulus) 12 to 15 inches from the suspect’s nose. When the officer is asked to demonstrate this distance on the witness stand, and the DUI defense attorney takes out a tape measure, you would be amazed at how often the officer has no idea the appropriate distance to hold the stimulus.
Another typical example relates to the WAT test. The WAT is the test where an officer tells a suspect to stand on a real or imagined line and take a series of steps. One of the most commonly cited clues of impairment is that the suspect swayed during the instructional phase of the exercise. In other words, the suspect was swaying while the officer had him or her standing in an awkward position listening to the instructions. What many officers do not seem to realize is that the manual specifically states that this is only a clue if the suspect sways and breaks his or her feet apart more than half an inch.
While these may appear like minor details, the officer’s own training manual, which has hundreds of pages, only has a single sentence in bold text. That sentence states that if these tests are not performed exactly as written, the validity of any results is compromised.
Defending a DUI is a very complex process that requires your attorney to have a good understanding of the manner in which police officers attempt to determine that a suspect is driving under the influence of alcohol.