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DUI - Understanding Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

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When you have been pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) , the officer has several tools at his or her disposal for determining your estimated level of impairment. The officer will observe your posture, speech patterns, and overall demeanor, looking for indications that you have had too much to drink. You may also be asked to take a preliminary breath test—one that is not necessarily admissible in a criminal trial, but a test that can still be used against you at your license suspension hearing.

Prior to being arrested, it is also likely that the officer will ask you to participate in a series of assessments known as the standardized field sobriety tests or SFSTs. It is important to know that you are permitted to refuse all standardized field sobriety tests and you are also able to refuse any request by the officer to take a breath test, whether it be a portable breath test or the “official” test at the police station after your arrest.

What Are SFSTs?

The standardized field sobriety tests are a battery of three separate tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that help law enforcement determine a driver’s level of impairment in a potential DUI situation. The tests allow the officer to observe and note involuntary movements and reflexes, as well as the driver’s ability to follow directions and complete simple physical tasks. Each test has a number of “indicators” that help the officer decide whether the driver is likely to be impaired. The tests are not foolproof, but they are backed by scientific research and accepted as rebuttable evidence in a DUI prosecution.

The three standardized field sobriety tests include:

• Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): When conducting the HGN, the officer asks the driver to follow a stimulus—like a pen or a raised finger—with only his or her eyes. The officer moves the stimulus from side to side while watching the driver’s eyes for involuntary jerking called nystagmus. While nystagmus occurs for sober individuals as the eyes reach a certain horizontal angle, it usually starts sooner and is more pronounced when a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs;
• The walk-and-turn: The walk-and-turn is the test that most people think of when they hear the term “field sobriety test.” During this test, the driver must take nine steps—heel to toe—along a painted or imaginary line, pivot 180 degrees, and walk back nine steps. While the driver walks and counts the steps aloud, the officer looks for trouble balancing, swaying, and a lack of coordination as the driver turns. Starting too soon and losing count are also indicators of impairment;
• The one-leg stand: The third test requires the driver to stand with one leg raised so that one foot is parallel to and about six inches off the ground in front of the body. The driver must look at his raised foot while counting slowly. In most cases, the test will last about 30 seconds while the officer watches for hopping, swaying, or the driver putting the foot down.

Individually, the SFSTs are accurate in predicting a driver’s level impairment about 60 to 70 percent of the time. Taken as a whole, however, they are much more convincing. A sober driver, for example, with weight issues or middle ear problems, may fail the one-leg stand test due to his or her physical limitations, but pass the HGN.

Contact Us Now

It is important to realize, however, that SFSTs are not infallible. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense lawyer to explore your options. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former Will County prosecutor who understands how to challenge field sobriety tests and other evidence collecting methods used by law enforcement. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

Synthetic Opioid Fentanyl: The Drug Driving the Nation’s Opioid Abuse Epidemic

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Communities across the nation are dealing with unprecedented rates of drug abuse and fatal overdoses in alarming numbers. Law enforcement and government officials have gone on record referring to the problem as an epidemic that reaches from coast to coast. While the use of drugs in general is on the rise, one particular class of drugs known as opioids is causing more than its fair share of issues. Opioids include prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet, as well as street drugs like heroin. Many experts now believe, however, that one prescription opioid—known as fentanyl—is now at the root of the problem.

What Is Fentanyl?

As a synthetic opioid , fentanyl is typically prescribed for patients dealing with severe pain. It was first developed in 1960 and entered the market as an aesthetic. The drug is currently sold under the brand names Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora. Prescription strength fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

One of the biggest problems with fentanyl, however, is an issue it shares with other opioids. A dose that would kill one person may offer a level of pain relief to another. In addition, long-term use of drugs like fentanyl can build a tolerance in a person’s system, which means that more is needed to achieve the same results.

Why Fentanyl?
According to various reports, heroin is getting harder and harder to find in certain areas of the country. Fentanyl, by comparison, is much more readily available, as drug cartels have found ways to make the drug more easily and at a lower cost than making heroin.

Illicit drug manufacturers also mix fentanyl in with other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. In many cases, the end user is not even aware of the fentanyl until it is too late. Fentanyl overdoses can cause severe respiratory depression and arrest. When that happens, the user may be completely unable to breathe and may experience seizures and, ultimately, death.

Facing Drug Charges?

While the use of fentanyl under the care and supervision of a doctor is legal with a prescription, the drug is still very dangerous. Street versions are even more so because concentrations are unregulated and reactions are unpredictable.

If you have been arrested and charged in connection with the possession or distribution of illegal drugs, including heroin or fentanyl, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense attorney . Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

Know Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

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There is quite a bit of information floating around telling drivers what they can do if stopped by police . Videos on the Internet claim to illustrate a driver’s rights if pulled over by police, and Social Media accounts post bulletins and other materials related to that same issue. The best thing a driver can do is read information from reliable sources and ask questions from knowledgeable professionals .

Some Facts about Traffic Stops

Traffic stops vary. For example, being pulled over in traffic differs from law enforcement officials conducting a DUI roadblock. It is important to understand the limitations of law enforcement in these different situations and when motorists are required to comply with certain requests. Here are a few things to know:

1. The United States Supreme Court ruled that a roadside sobriety checkpoint does not violate the 4th Amendment, which prohibits intrusions on one’s privacy. If you are asked to pull to the side of the road at a checkpoint, you should comply.
2. At that checkpoint, however, a driver does not have to show identification or vehicle registration UNLESS an officer witnesses signs of intoxication.
3. The same holds true if a traffic stop is conducted on the open road or municipal street, but not initiated by a violation—that is police do not have the right to ask for identification or check vehicle registration.
4. A Federal Appeals Court recently ruled that police DO NOT have the right to look through a vehicle glove box for the registration without the driver’s permission since a simple computer search could determine vehicle registration using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) (which is visible on the outside of all automobiles).

Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

Drivers have a number of rights they can exercise during a traffic stop , which include, but are not limited to the following:

• If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, you must first state that is your intent.
• You can refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle and your person.
• If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave (calmly).
• If you are placed under arrest, immediately ask for legal representation.

A Final Tip

In addition to knowing your rights during a traffic stop, it is always a good idea to remain calm and be polite throughout the process.

Contact an Experienced Will County Traffic Violation Attorney

When you are issued a ticket or taken into custody following a traffic stop, consider seeking help from a knowledgeable Joliet Traffic and Driving defense lawyer . Allow a professional to review your case and learn if follow up action is necessary. The Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba will review your case and determine the most appropriate defense strategy for you.

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