Challenging the Results of Field Sobriety Tests

Joliet field sobriety testsIf you were asked to stand on one leg for thirty seconds, right now with no warning, could you do it? What about walking in a straight line, heel to toe, reversing direction and walking back on the exact same line, whether you could see the line or not? If either of these presented a significant challenge for you, federal authorities suggest that there is about an 80 percent chance that you might be intoxicated. Of course, this exercise is meant to be an exaggerated example, but the reality is that tests such as the ones mentioned are used by law enforcement every day as subjective evidence against drivers charged with DUI , knowing full well the tests are not always accurate.

Battery of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recognizes three roadside behavior assessments as “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” or SFSTs. The tests include the two previously discussed and a third, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, in which the administering officer asks a driver to follow a small object, such as a pen, with his or her eyes, looking for involuntary jerking of the eyes (called nystagmus) and other indicators. Generally administered together, these tests are accepted around the country as admissible—although rebuttable—proof of a driver’s intoxication.

Concerns Regarding Accuracy

While such tests can provide assistance to a law enforcement officer in determining a driver’s level of intoxication, they are far from perfect. In fact, the NHTSA fully acknowledges in its own manuals that the most recent validation study was conducted more than 15 years ago, and even then, showed the tests to be about 91 percent accurate. The accuracy rate drops even lower for each test individually, with the walk-and-turn test showing to be the most unreliable , at only a 79 percent accuracy rate. If effect, this means that, despite their use in the courtroom, field sobriety tests are not irrefutable evidence against you, no matter what law enforcement officers try to convince you.

Mitigating Factors

There are a number of considerations that can greatly impact the results of field sobriety tests. Some of them relate to you, while others involving the administering officer. On your part, physical conditions, health concerns, and other factors may play a role in “poor performance” on SFSTs. For example, if you suffer from inner-ear problems or vertigo, the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn tests are extremely unreliable indicators of being drunk. Likewise, nystagmus can be caused by far more than alcohol consumption or drug use.

Similarly, in order for the tests to even be considered by the court, they must be conducted in full compliance with standardized procedures. In fact, in 2000, an Ohio Supreme Court decision explicitly held that Standardized Field Sobriety Tests conducted outside of established NHTSA protocols “are inherently unreliable” and not admissible. In Illinois, appellate courts have agreed, requiring testimony—that can be refuted if necessary—that the tests were administered properly and in accordance with standards.

Legal Help for Your DUI Case

If you have been charged with DUI and you believe that SFSTs were inappropriately used against you, contact an experienced drunk driving defense lawyer in Joliet today. Our team of skilled legal professionals understands the law and is committed to ensuring your rights are fully protected. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba.

New Law to Reduce Automatic Transfers for Juveniles

Joliet Juvenile CrimesBeginning January 1, 2016, fewer drunk driving juveniles will be automatically tried as adults in Illinois, thanks to a new law signed by Governor Bruce Rauner earlier this month. Proponents believe that the new measure is in line with similar systems in place in other states, and will help Illinois reduce the current law’s “disproportionate impact” on minority juveniles. While juveniles will still be permitted to be tried as adults, a large majority of cases will first require a hearing in juvenile court to determine the appropriateness of a transfer.

Need for Change

More than a century ago, Illinois was a pioneer in the fight against juvenile crime, establishing the nation’s first juvenile court system in Cook County in 1899. In recent decades, however, the “tough-on-crime” attitudes that had become prevalent across the county also took hold here at home. Prosecution became more intense and criminal penalties more severe, even for cases involving minors. Laws were created that allowed individuals as young as 15, and in some cases, even 13, to be automatically tried as adults for certain offenses. The focus on juvenile rehabilitation rather than punishment that led to the establishment of the juvenile court system seemed to have been blurred.

New Guidelines

With the stroke of a pen, Governor Rauner completed Springfield’s attempt to restore that focus. The new law eliminates the automatic transfer new law eliminates the automatic transfer to adult court for all individuals under the age of 16, regardless of the specific criminal charges. For 16- and 17-year-olds, automatic transfer will only occur for the most serious crimes, including murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated battery with a firearm.
In all other juvenile crime cases, the defendant will be granted a hearing before a juvenile court judge to consider the necessity for a transfer. The judge is expected to take a number of factors into account, including the defendant’s background, mental capacity, and potential degree of fault. Based on the individual circumstances of the situation, the judge may elect to transfer the case to adult court, or to keep it in the juvenile system.

Legal Help for Juvenile Offenses

If your child has been charged with a crime, you need a lawyer who is committed to helping your family every step of the way. Jack L. Zaremba is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Joliet who fully understands the intricacies of the juvenile court system. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free consultation and put our team to work in protecting your child’s future.

Reasonable Doubt: You Do Not Have to Prove Your Innocence

Reasonable Doubt

When you are facing criminal charges for something you did not do, including drug charges , property crimes , or any other type of illegal activity, it can be very overwhelming. You will likely feel enormous pressure to find some way to prove that you did not or could not commit the offense for which you have been charged. The challenge, of course, often lies in the fact that proving you did not do something can be extremely difficult. However, thanks to a long history of legal precedent that has become entrenched in U.S. laws, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and its case must exceed all reasonable doubt.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Dating back centuries, a defendant is presumed to be innocent until he or she is proven guilty. However, for many years in the United States, courts were at odds over what was necessary to reach the standard of “proven guilty.” Some cases would utilize the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which is still in use in civil court, which simply means that the defendant more likely than not committed the act of which he or she was accused.

In 1970, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the due process clauses in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution afforded defendants more protection . The Courts decision on the case In Re Winship, clearly established that the government must prove each element of its case against a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In practice, this means that if a even a single point of fact in the case creates a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge or jury, the defendant cannot be convicted.

Creating Reasonable Doubt

At both the state and federal levels , prosecutors recognize the burden of proof in making their case. You, as the defendant, are not required to do anything to prove you innocence. Of course, an apathetic approach or declining to present an argument against the government’s claims can leave a jury with little choice but to accept that version as established fact.

A qualified criminal defense attorney can help you build a case that disputes the claims made by prosecutors. Again, you do not have to prove your side any further than creating reasonable doubt in regard to the government’s account of what took place.

If you have been charged with a crime that you did not commit, it is imperative to contact a Joliet criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former prosecutor who fully understands the burden of proof and how to responsibly create the reasonable doubt necessary to succeed in your case. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free consultation today.


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