What Is the DUI Eye Test and Is It Legal in Georgia?

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When you are pulled over by an officer suspecting you of DUI, they’ll conduct field sobriety tests, one of which is the sobriety eye test. During this DUI eye test, the police officer will examine your eyes by requesting you to follow a pen, finger, flashlight, or fixed object as they move it from left to right for what seems like an eternity.

Georgia is one of the states that operates under the implied consent law. According to this law, if you’re operating a vehicle on a public highway, you’ve given consent to submit to breath and blood tests to determine your blood alcohol levels. However, this law doesn’t include field sobriety tests. So although the tests are legal, you can refuse their administration without being subjected to immediate legal consequences.

But the officers can still arrest you and conduct blood and breath tests. We recommend having an experienced DUI defense attorney from Moffitt Law, LLC to guide you on your legal options and collect evidence to challenge the reliability of the tests in court.

What is the Field Sobriety Test Commonly Known as?

The sobriety eye test is commonly known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. It was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a method of testing if a driver is intoxicated without taking a breath or blood sample.

Although officers are trained to conduct these tests accurately, they aren’t without fault. At Moffitt Law, LLC, we can challenge the results of these tests if they were performed inaccurately or in a faulty manner.

What is the DUI Eye Test Looking For?

During the sobriety eye tests, the police look for the angle where the nystagmus (jerking movement) occurs. Nystagmus is involuntary, so the driver will not notice it, but the police officer will.

Nystagmus occurs even when sober, where someone rotates their eyes to higher angles involuntarily. When a driver is driving under the influence, the motion usually happens at lower angles. When administering the tests, police officers are looking for:

  • Smooth pursuit.
  • The jerking eye motion at maximum rotating deviation. When the officer holds the flashlight or pen at the edge of your field of view for four seconds, does your eye continue jerking?
  • The angle of the eye when the jerking happens. Is it within 45 degrees?

Police officers are trained to conduct this DUI eye test, but DUI defense lawyers can get the same training and learn what officers should do, and the results are obtained when the administering results aren’t followed. A DUI defense attorney from Moffitt Law, LLC is better equipped to cross-examine the arresting police officer and challenge the results of the HGN eye test.

How is the HGN Eye Test Administered?

The test starts with the police officer instructing you into a ‘testing’ stance with your feet together and your arms by your side. The officer asks you to maintain this stance until they instruct otherwise.

Once you assume the stance, the officer will qualify you for the test by checking if your eyes have equal tracking and pupil size. The test isn’t conducted if your pupils are of different sizes and don’t track properly.

If you qualify, the officer presents a stimulus to focus your vision on. The stimulus should be 12 to 15 inches before your face and slightly over the eyebrow level. The officer then moves the stimulus horizontally at different speeds as they look for evidence of intoxication.

Is the sobriety eye test a reliable method of detecting drunkenness?

The NHTSA conducted several studies where police officers administered eye tests to drivers with known BAC levels. The goal was to determine how accurately officers could identify drivers with BACs higher than 0.1%.

From the study, the NHTSA determined officers could accurately identify intoxicated drivers at 77% using the HGN eye test. When coupled with other field sobriety tests, their accuracy jumped to 80%.

That said, the HGN eye test is laden with pitfalls, including:

  • Many normal drivers have physiologic end-point nystagmus.
  • Nystagmus can be caused by structural neurologic disease
  • A neuro-ophthalmologist is needed to determine if the nystagmus is pathological
  • Not following the testing procedure to the letter yields false positives

How Would an Attorney Approach Defenses to the HGN Eye Test’s Use?

Since the HGN eye test is highly subjective, the most common defense is to argue its reliability or prove improper administration. Attorneys can also challenge the tests based on matters related to the environment or the driver.

Some external causes that lead to inaccurate HGN results include:

  • Bad weather
  • Bad roads
  • Administered under the glaring sun or in darkness
  • Lights on patrol cars flashing
  • A driver’s pre-existing health problems including eye and ear disorders, brain damage, head injury, antihistamines, caffeine, vertigo, or the flu.

Contact our DUI Defense Attorney

HGN eye tests are conducted to gather probable cause for a DUI arrest. Unfortunately, the tests are rarely conducted according to instructions and are inherently faulty.

At Moffitt Law, LLC in LaGrange and Carrollton, our DUI defense team knows how to prepare and challenge DUI eye tests. Get in touch with us to have a better understanding of how we can help with your DUI case.

FAQs About HGN Eye Tests

How long does the HGN eye test take?

Practically, HGN administration should take about 90 seconds.

Which eye do you start with on HGN?

The officers should start with the left eye. They should move the stimulus to the left until it reaches your left shoulder and holds for four seconds. They then watch for jerking motion.

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