The Future is Here: Breathalyzer Skin Patches

We all know that if someone is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, they will be required to take a breathalyzer test, usually later at the police station. And this test result will be the primary evidence used against him in a drunk driving case.

The first problem with this is that the amount of alcohol in the blood is constantly changing — either rising due to absorption from recent drinking or, more likely, falling due to metabolism of the alcohol.

The second problem is that it is only illegal to have a .08% blood-alcohol concentration at the time of driving — not later at the police station.  And this breath test may not be given for an hour or two after the driving has ended — particularly in accident cases, where the police may not arrive for some time.  So the prosecution has to try to estimate what the blood-alcohol level was when the suspect was driving based upon the later test.

The third problem is that because of this, for the test results to be admissible as evidence in court they have to have been obtained within a certain period of time — in California, for example, within three hours.

But what if there was a breath-testing device which could record what the blood-alcohol level was at the time the suspect is actually driving?
Flexible Wearable Electronic Skin Patch Offers New Way to Monitor Alcohol Levels

San Diego, CA.  Aug. 2 – Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a flexible wearable sensor that can accurately measure a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmit the data wirelessly to a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device. The device can be worn on the skin and could be used by doctors and police officers for continuous, non-invasive and real-time monitoring of blood alcohol content.

The device consists of a temporary tattoo — which sticks to the skin, induces sweat and electrochemically detects the alcohol level — and a portable flexible electronic circuit board, which is connected to the tattoo by a magnet and can communicate the information to a mobile device via Bluetooth…
Clearly, the government would be very interested in requiring anyone convicted of DUI to wear such a patch for the probationary period (commonly three years).

 

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What to do If You Are Pulled Over for Suspected DWI in Missouri

What you do and don’t do after a DWI stop can affect the outcome of your case. Your actions or those of the police may enable your DWI defense attorney to obtain a dismissal of the charge or another positive outcome.

After You Are Stopped By The Police

If you have been drinking and are pulled over, keep the following in mind during your interaction with the police officer:

  • Be respectful and cooperative — Hostility or rudeness will only invite increased scrutiny by the officer. Be polite and responsive to the officer’s questions.
  • Remember that you are probably on camera — Many DWI stops in Missouri are recorded by squad car videos. This video can provide evidence that supports the officer’s decision to arrest you. Be mindful of this fact and behave appropriately.
  • You have the right to remain silent — Provide the officer with your driver’s license and insurance card. But don’t answer any questions regarding your consumption of alcohol or admit that you have been at a bar. At this point, the officer is looking for information that will allow him or her to continue the investigation to find evidence against you. The less information you provide, the more difficult the officer’s task is.
  • Field sobriety tests — In asking you to perform these tests, the officer is looking for evidence that you are impaired. Respectfully decline to perform field sobriety tests. If he or she presses you to perform these tests, restate your refusal in polite language.
  • Do not submit to a portable breath test — The results from this hand-held device can provide probable cause for the police to arrest you. Refusing to take a portable breath test does not violate Missouri’s implied consent law.
  • Get legal help as soon as possible — If you refuse to perform field sobriety tests or take a portable breath test, you may be transported to a police station and asked to take an official breath test. At that point, should you take the breath test? That is a complicated issue that depends on the specific circumstances of your case. You should obtain advice from an experienced DWI defense attorney.
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DWI Field Sobriety Testing: Post 3 of 3 Post Series – One-Leg Stand Test

Over the past several months I have discussed in detail the various field sobriety tests that police officers utilize during their investigations of DWI’s.  Today is the final installment of the series with what is typically the final field sobriety test conducted roadside, the One-Leg Stand Test.  Obviously, standing on one foot for up to 30 seconds is rarely easy for anyone.  However, studies show that when the failure of this test is coupled with the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test and the Walk and Turn Test, it can demonstrate with a high probability whether someone is too impaired to operate a motor vehicle safely.

On the One-Leg Stand Test (OLS), there is a possibility of four different potential indicators of impairment.  Like the Walk and Turn Test, the OLS is considered a divided attention test.  While the subject is standing on the foot of their choice, they are required to look at the other foot and count out loud until being told to stop.  This then pairs a physical task, standing on one foot, with a mental task, counting.  Although the combination of balancing, listening, and counting out loud does not seem very daunting to most, it can actual be quite difficult for someone who is impaired.

As with WAT, the OLS requires a surface that is dry, hard, level, and non-slippery.  If the subject is wearing heals that are over 2 inches in height, the officer must give them an opportunity to remove their shoes.  Studies have also suggested that individuals over 65 years of age, people with back, leg, or inner ear problems, and people who are 50 or more pounds overweight may have difficulty performing the test.  If the test is conducted on any of these individuals, their attorney should be able to discredit the officer for even continuing with the test once these issues are discovered.

The instruction phase of any of the sobriety tests are of critical importance in ensuring any level of accuracy.  On the OLS there are eight distinct instructions that must be given to the subject by the officer performing the test.  If instructed or demonstrated improperly by the officer, the results can be drastically compromised.  The following instructions must be given by the officer, and must be given from a safe distance:

1) Tell the suspect to stand straight, feet together and arms at their sides, and not to begin until instructed to do so, followed by “do you understand”;

2) Tell the suspect to raise one leg, either leg, approximately 6″ above and parallel with the ground (toe pointed out or down slightly), followed by a demonstration;

3) Tell the suspect to hold the elevated foot in this position and count in the following manner, one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, and so on until told to stop, followed by a demonstration;

4) Ask the suspect if he or she understands;

5) Tell the suspect that throughout the test, to remember to: a) watch the elevated foot; b) count like instructed; c) keep both arms at the sides; d) keep both legs straight; e) should you put your foot down, lift it back up and continue counting from where you left off;

6) Ask the suspect if he or she understands;

7) Ask the suspect if he or she feels like they can perform the test as explained;

8) Tell suspect to begin and check the time (Must be timed for 30 seconds)

If any of the above instruction are left off, the particular clue should not be counted by the officer or the Court, and it could serve to discredit the officer’s credibility.  Although there are  a total possibility of four potential indicators of impairment on this test, it takes two to fail.  The following are potential indicators of impairment, or “clues”:

1) Sways while balancing (side to side or back and forth motion while the subject maintains the OLS position. Slight tremors do not qualify);

2) Uses arms for balance (subject moves arms 6 inches or more from the side of the body in order to keep balance);

3) Hopping (subject is able to keep one foot off the ground, but resorts to hopping in order to maintain balance);

4) Puts foot down (the subject is not able to maintain the one leg stand position, putting the foot down one or more times during the 30 second count).

If two of the above indicators are present, it will be determined that the subject has failed the test, indicating the possibility of impairment.  Again, however, if any of the instructions are left out during the instruction phase by the officer, the validity of the entire test comes into question.  This is another test in which it is valuable to have it captured on video and audio from the car of the officer.  Whether it is or isn’t captured on the dashcam, it takes a skilled and experience criminal defense attorney to advocate for you at trial.  To effectively cross-examine the officer, attorneys must have a well-rounded knowledge of how DWI’s are investigated and must have a thorough understanding of the field sobriety tests.

This concludes my 3 part series on Field Sobriety Testing.  Once again, I hope the posts have been informative as I aim to put the public on a level playing field with police officers when requested to complete FST’s on the side of the road.  Don’t hesitate to contact my law office should you ever find yourself in the position of needing a skilled criminal defense attorney.

DWI Field Sobriety Testing: Post 2 of 3 Post Series – Walk and Turn Test

Back on July 7 I began a 3 post blog series regarding Standard Field Sobriety Testing in DWI cases. In Post 1 I discussed in detail the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, better known as “the eye test”. Today, I hope to provide details and information regarding the field sobriety test that should be administered by law enforcement directly following the HGN, the Walk and Turn Test, also known as the Heel to Toe Test. As indicated in Post 1, other than blood alcohol content evidence, the Field Sobriety Tests are what prosecutors, judges, and juries rely on in determining the guilt or innocence of those accused of driving while intoxicated. The Walk and Turn Test (WAT) is the first opportunity the investigating officer has during the field sobriety tests to observe whether there is actual physical impairment of a person’s balance and walking. Of course, during the initial contact phase of the investigation the officer is already looking for possible signs of impairment, but the WAT is the first sobriety test designed to detect physical impairment.

On the WAT there are a possibility of eight indicators of impairment. Many people claim that they cannot complete this test whether sober or intoxicated. However, evidence shows that exhibiting two out of eight clues indicates a 79% probability of that subject having a BAC over the presumed legal limit of .08%. Like the HGN, however, the test is only as accurate as the person (i.e. law enforcement officer) administering the test and only as accurate as the instructions that are given. This is why it is critically important to have an attorney in these cases who understands and knows the field sobriety testing protocol so that they can determine whether the officers administered the test appropriately and, if not, can adequately cross-examine the officer and bring those inaccuracies to the Court or jury’s attention.

The WAT test is a divided attention test. What this means is that it combines a physical and a mental task at the same time. Like all divided attention tests there are two stages: on the WAT there is an instructions stage and a balance and counting stage. Both stages are important as they can both affect a subject’s overall performance, but the instruction phase is given by the officer administering the test. It is critically important that the instructions are given properly, otherwise, the results cannot and should not be relied upon by the judge or the jury. Also in order to be relied upon with any sense of accuracy, the test must be conducted on a surface that is dry, hard, level, and non-slippery. Other factors that may play a role in the accuracy of this test is if the subject is 65 years of age or older, or is greater than 50 pounds overweight. Although these factors may affect people differently, they are something to consider and should be brought to the Court or jury’s attention if present.

To have any accuracy whatsoever, the instruction phase outlined in the officers training manual must be completely adhered to. There are sixteen distinct points of instruction that must be given prior to the subject performing the WAT test. If any instructions are left out, the results of the test are greatly compromised. The officer’s are taught to give the instructions from a safe distance from the subject. Then, the following instructions must be given:
1) Tell the suspect to place their left foot on a line (which can be an imaginary line, although an existing line such as a parking lot line is preferred) with the right foot in front, heel touching toe, keeping the arms at their sides. Demonstrate as they do it.
2) Tell the suspect not to begin the test until instructed to do so. Ask suspect if he or she understands.
3) Tell the suspect that he or she will be expected to take nine heel-to-toe steps down the line, make a turn in a prescribed manner, and return nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting position. Tell the suspect that you will demonstrate.
4) Explain and demonstrate using three heel-to-toe steps.
5) Explain and demonstrate the turn procedure.
6) Explain and demonstrate three heel-to-toe steps for return.
7) Ask the suspect if he or she understands.
8) Tell the suspect to watch his or her feet at all times.
9) Tell suspect that he or she is to count each step out loud (so that you can hear him or her).
10) Tell suspect that he or she is to keep his or her arms at their sides at all times during the test.
11) Tell the suspect that he or she is not to stop the test once it has begun.
12) Instruct the suspect that if he or she steps off the line, to place their foot back on the line and continue walking in the heel-to-to fashion until the test is complete.
13) Ask the suspect if he or she understands the instructions for the test.
14) Ask the suspect if he or she feels they cannot perform the test as explained.
15) Tell the suspect that the first step from where he or she is currently standing is step one.
16) As the suspect if he or she has any physical disabilities that would not enable them to complete the test.
17) Tell the suspect to begin the test.

Once again, if any of these instructions are left out of the first phase by the officer, that particular instruction cannot be used as a clue, and the validity of the entire test can be called into question. During the test, the eight possible indicators of impairment that may be present are each included in the instructions. Although there are a total of 18 steps and a turn on the test, if an indicator of impairment occurs only one time it is considered a clue. That is what makes the walk and turn test such a difficult test for many people. There are numerous ways to exhibit an indicator of impairment and it seems even non-impaired people could show one or more of the indicators.

With the officer’s report that is presented to the prosecuting attorney after a DWI arrest is made is a separate report called the “alcohol influence report”. On the AIR there is a diagram of the WAT test, as well as nine separate boxes that can be check for each indicator. During the WAT, the investigating officer is looking for the following:
1) Fails to maintain heel-to-toe stance (this is during the instructions when the person has to keep right foot in front of their left foot while the instructions are given).
2) Starts before instructed to begin.
3) Stops while walking to steady self.
4) Does not touch heel-to-toe (misses by more than 1/2 inch).
5) Loses balance while walking (steps off line).
6) Uses arms for balance (raises arms more than 6 inches from side).
7) Loses balance while turning or made an improper turn.
8) Incorrect number of steps.
9) Cannot perform or refused to do the test.

If two or more of the above indicators are present the subject is considered to have failed the test and officers will testify on the witness stand that the failure of that test indicates a possibility that the subject was impaired. The prosecutor will then try to couple that failure with other indicators to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge or jury. As with the HGN test, if the WAT is not recorded on an audio/video camera, it will be difficult to uncover whether an officer administered the test correctly by giving the correct instructions. However, it may be difficult for an officer to regurgitate every single instruction while on the witness stand as well. That is again why it takes a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable in field sobriety testing to effectively cross-examine highly trained and experienced police officers.

Within the next few weeks I plan to do the final post in the series, which will cover the One-Leg Stand. I certainly hope that my posts have been insightful and informative up to this point. My goal is not to try to thwart DWI investigations or to encourage drinking and driving at all. I am simply hoping to make you more aware of these tests should you find yourself being put through roadside testing. Perhaps then, the public will be on a level playing field with police if being investigated. Feel free to contact my office if any questions arise or if anything is unclear.

DWI Field Sobriety Testing: Post 1 of 3 Post Series – HGN (Eye) Test

Aside from blood alcohol tests, the most important evidence of impairment that police, prosecutors, judges, and juries rely on in driving while intoxicated cases are the results of the field sobriety tests. Most of these tests are difficult for most anyone to pass, whether sober or impaired. The key to successful defense against possible false accusations by police or prosecutors is to know and understand the tests before you decide to comply with the officer’s request and take them. Over the next few weeks, I am going to go into each of the three standard field sobriety tests in detail in an effort to provide the information and knowledge necessary so that people can be better prepared if encountered with a roadside test.

Of the three standardized field sobriety tests (SFST’s) that are routinely conducted in DWI cases, the one that is the least understood by the general public, judges, and prosecutors alike is the dreaded eye test, technically known as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN). It is by far the most scientific test of the three, and it can actually be the most reliable. However, if it is conducted improperly, the results can be severely compromised. Because of this, although the results can be very reliable to determine whether there is alcohol in the blood stream, the test is only as good as the person administering it.

Many people believe that when an officer is conducting the test of the eyes they are simply checking to see whether the subject’s head is moving or whether the subject can follow simple instructions. In reality, the officer is checking for “nystagmus” which is an involuntary jerking of the eye. There are several types of nystagmus, but only alcohol and a few other drugs actually cause horizontal gaze nystagmus. When under cross-examination by a skilled defense attorney most officers will not know the difference between HGN and other forms of nystagmus such as fatigue nystagmus, optokinetic nystagmus, or nystagmus caused by a previous head injury. Of course, if the trained police officer doesn’t know the difference, neither will the judge or jury. That is why it is important for the officers to be cross-examined on these details in order to impeach their credibility. If they don’t know whether what they are seeing is caused by alcohol or whether is it caused by something else, how can a judge or jury be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt?

During the test, the officer is looking for six potential clues of impairment. In each eye the officer is looking: 1) to see whether the eye moves smoothly from side to side or does it jerk noticeably (this portion of the test is known as lack of smooth pursuit); 2) whether the eye jerks distinctly when it moves as far to the side as possible and is kept there for a minimum of four seconds (this part of the test is known as distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation); and 3) whether the subject’s eye starts to jerk noticeably as it moves toward the side prior to it reaching a 45 degree angle (this is known as onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees). If all six of these clues are present, studies show that the test has a 77% accuracy rate at detecting subjects at or above a 0.10 BAC.

Although potentially 77% accurate, the test must be conducted precisely according to protocol. If not, the results are substantially compromised. When conducting a roadside field sobriety test, the officer’s patrol car is usually equipped with a dashcam that is recording the entire incident on both video and audio. Unfortunately for those who have been pulled over it is up to the individual officer to save the video as evidence. It is not unheard of to see an officer fail to do so because the video is often the only way that their performance in conducting the HGN can be impeached. Do not be afraid to ask the officer to save the dashcam video of the arrest. There is still nothing that requires the officer to do so, but it is worth asking because the evidence can be critically important.

In conducting the HGN, the following protocol must be followed:
The stimulus (finger, tip of pin, etc.) must be held approximately 12-15 inches from the tip of the subjects nose.
The officer must check to make sure that the eyes track equally, that the pupils are of equal size, and that there is no resting nystagmus. The presence of any of these things could mean there was a previous head injury by the subject or resting nystagmus could detect the presence of a disassociative drug such as PCP, which can be dangerous for the officer.

First Clue – Check for Smooth Pursuit – Check suspect’s left eye first. Begin from center of the nose to the maximum deviation in approximately 2 seconds. Then check the right eye by moving back across the subjects face to a maximum deviation at approximately a 4 second pace. Then go back to center approximately 2 seconds. You then must repeat the process always doing the test twice for each eye.

Second Clue – Check for Distinct and Sustained Nystagmus at Maximum Deviation – Check the left eye first. Eye must follow stimulus to maximum deviation (no white showing in corner of eye). Eye must be held in this position for at least 4 seconds in order for this clue to be scored. Check the right eye. Again, repeat in each eye.

Third Clue – Check for Angle of Onset Prior to 45 Degrees – Check the left eye first once again. The eye must follow the stimulus from the center of the suspect’s nose to near the edge of the suspect’s shoulder to a 45 degree angle, leaving some white showing in the corner of the eye, at approximately a 4 second pace. Check the right eye, and repeat the entire cycle again in each eye.

The final steps of the test includes checking for vertical gaze nystagmus, which is the same process as checking for smooth pursuit only up and down, and the last thing to do is to check for lack of convergence. Both VGN and lack of convergence are not clues to be scored during the HGN test, but could aid the officer in developing suspicion of either a high level of alcohol in the blood or other types of drugs as possible intoxicants. If each of the above steps are conducted appropriately, the test should take no less than 64 seconds and realistically probably longer for a good, accurate test.

Once again, if this test is conducted properly by the arresting officer it can be very solid evidence of the presence of alcohol in a person’s system. However, to uncover poor administration of the HGN, and any other FST, it takes a skilled criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable in the area of DWI defense.

Over the next couple of weeks, posts 2 and 3 of the series will cover the Walk and Turn Test and the One-leg Stand Test. If anyone should have any questions or want any advice, don’t hesitate to contact our office. Until then, be safe and smart out there!