Criminal Defense

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What decisions do I get to make as a criminal defendant?

Initially, when you get arrested there is one important decision that you get to make that will determine how much control you have over your case as it filters through the system.  First and foremost, you get to decide as a criminal defendant whether or not you want to hire counsel.  If you chose to represent yourself you will be responsible for making every decision along the way.  This is a very dangerous position to be in unless you have had significant legal training.  Even lawyers hire lawyers when needed as they know it is better to have a qualified advocate speaking on your behalf. 


If you decide to hire counsel, your attorney, if they do their job correctly, will exercise all of your rights on your behalf.  This includes filing appropriate motions and documents with the court to preserve issues, obtaining evidence to prepare for your case, and ultimately keeping you informed along the way.  The ethics rules in this state allow an attorney to make most of the decisions on your behalf throughout this process.  Your attorney will/should seek your opinion on many issues.  However, most pretrial action such as whether pretrial motions are filed, hearings on those issues are heard, or particular aspects of investigation are conducted are activities left solely within the sound discretion of your lawyer. 


The next decision that must be made by you is whether you want to take a negotiated plea that your attorney has worked out or whether you want your case to go to trial.  Your attorney will advise you through this process but ultimately it will always be your decision.  The way I explain this to my clients is:


I am going to propose two paths for you to take.  I will tell you the potential risks and rewards of both of those paths.  Once you have all the information, you tell me which path you want to take and I will do everything in my power to achieve the goal we are looking for. 


There have been times that I have advised a person to go to trial and they decide they cannot take the risk.  Under those set of circumstances, we do not go to trial.  On the other hand, there have been a handful of times that I have advised a client it is not in their best interest to put their case in the hands of a jury; however, they were adamant that they wanted their day in court.  Under those set of circumstances, those clients had their case heard by a jury of their peers.  It is a very difficult decision to make at this stage of the representation and your attorney should be able to give you all the information you need that will assist you in making the decision that is best for you at that time.


The last decision you get to make as a criminal defendant presents itself once you have made the decision to go to trial.  You don’t get to decide how the case gets tried, what objections are made, or even what evidence is presented.  The only thing you have control over is whether or not you want to testify.  This is a right that neither a judge nor your attorney can take from you.  Obviously, when making this decision, you should heed the advice of counsel when discussing your options; however, in the end, it will always be your decision.


The system is set up so that a qualified person is making most of the strategic decisions on your behalf.  Hire counsel that you can trust to make these decisions along the way.  We have a tremendous amount of trial experience and are perfectly positioned to help you throughout whatever legal issue you may be going through.  Please, don’t hesitate to call our office today at (770) 945-2320.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can my conviction be expunged?

Expungement is the process by which all the records associated with your arrest are “destroyed” and taken off of your history.  When negotiating a dismissal in a case, our office generally requests that the State allow for an expungement as well.  Generally, there is no objection from the State allowing this to happen.  However, at least once a month our office gets a call from someone that took a plea in a case many years prior asking if we can help them with an expungement.  Most often, what happens is the person didn’t contemplate the impact that a conviction could have on their future and when they hit the roadblock years later, they want the problem fixed.  So, can a conviction be expunged later?  The answer to this question is almost always NO and there is an easy explanation as to why this is the case.


Expungement is an extraordinary remedy.  When you apply for an expungement, there is a three part request that it submitted.  There is one section that is filled out by the Defendant that is requesting the expungement.  Once that is filled out, the paperwork is handed over to the arresting agency for them to fill out all appropriate information that the GBI will need to complete the expungement, if it is approved.  Finally, the paperwork is sent by the arresting agency over to the prosecutor’s office for approval.    Long story short, there is not a prosecutor office that we are aware of that would approve the expungement of a case where a Defendant accepted responsibility for the offense and was convicted of the crime.  It simply does not make sense.  Further, it makes no sense to expunge the arrest of an offense that a Defendant was convicted of.  There is no valid reason to eliminate the criminal history of a person who admitted to what they did.


Therefore, if you are charged with a crime, don’t take the “path of least resistance” and plead guilty in to your case in the hopes that you will be able to “get it expunged later.”   Ninety-nine percent of the time, there is no post conviction relief to get a charge off your record.  Contact our office immediately so that we can ensure you exercise all options that may be available to you.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Any lawyer can do the job, right?

Being attorneys that are in court on a continuous basis and having practiced in our respective areas as long as we have, we can easily identify those lawyers that are “out of their element.”  The change in the economic climate has affected everyone, even lawyers.  Attorneys that once did business litigation, real estate closings, and the like have found that their market has dried up a bit.  However, with the down economy, two areas of practice have grown exponentially…Criminal Law and Divorce/Child Custody Work.  Our “market” has been inundated with lawyers that have decided to take on a case or two, often at reduced fees, just to make ends meet when all they have is a license which ALLOWS them to practice any type of law; however, they don’t have the expertise that AFFORDS them the ability to do the job correctly.


There are several points to take into consideration when hiring a lawyer to handle your criminal case or divorce/custody issue.  These are not all inclusive, but they are a good starting point.


1.     Don’t hire the cheapest lawyer you find…you get what you pay for.


We can’t even begin to count the number of times that a prospective client didn’t hire our office because another attorney quoted them a fee that wasn’t just lower, but it was DRASTICALLY lower.  We certainly are not the cheapest or most expensive law firm in the metro area; however, our fees are directly proportionate to our experience and expertise.  If you speak to a number of attorneys who seem to know what they are talking about and all of them are quoting a fee that are within $500 and $1000 of each other, you are probably on the right track.  However, when you have an attorney that is quoting you a fee that is half, if not 75% less than other offices, BEWARE.  These are attorneys that don’t know the value of the service that NEEDS to be provided.  This could be because they only dabble in that area of the law or their level of experience with your type of case is scarce at best. 


Ask yourself a question, if every other car dealer is selling that vehicle you have been looking at for three weeks within a price range of $22,000 and $25,000…but you find another dealer offering it to you for $12,000 (however, they want you to buy it without an inspection), are you going to hand over the money without a second thought?  Your legal issue is the most important thing going on in your life right now; don’t go with the budget lawyer; you have no idea what you will end up with.


2.     Ask them about their background and whether they have experience trying cases.


An attorney should be quick to recite his or her resume.  Any trial lawyer can recount for you their recent track record, basic facts of those cases, where they got their training from, etc.  If you ask an attorney about their last 3 trials they had in front of jury and they look at you like a deer in headlights, this is not a good sign.  You can always count on an experienced lawyer to be ready, willing and able to brag about their recent successes.  Not necessarily the best trait to have; however, you can certainly use it to your benefit.


3.     Interview at least three attorneys, even if it is over the phone.


Did you marry the first man or woman you ever had a conversation with?  Now, I am sure that there are a handful of people out there that will tell me they met their wife of 50 years when they were 5 years old and never looked back.  Sure, it is possible that the first lawyer you speak with will be the one for you; however, how are you supposed to know without courting a few of them.  Take your time and speak to several prospective attorneys after doing your own research first.  Then ask the tough questions.  If they start making promises to you in your first conversation about what will happen with your case (and it seems too good to be true) they are likely lying (overselling) to you in order to get your money.  Talk to as many lawyers as you can but don’t let this process delay your hiring of a lawyer too long.  It is still imperative to hire an attorney as soon as possible to protect all of your legal rights. 


4.     Make sure your prospective attorney takes a burden off when you swipe your card or write a check.


When hiring a lawyer, it’s not like a normal purchase.  You don’t get to walk out with a new electronic device or drive away in a new vehicle.  The only thing a lawyer sells you is peace of mind that your issues will be handled.  Most people that come into our office carry the burden of their troubles with them all day because they don’t know what to do or what to expect.  A lawyer should be able to take that burden from you (as much as possible) and allow you to rest easy that everything is being taken care of.  We tell our clients when they leave our office, TRY NOT TO WORRY ABOUT IT…if there is something for you to worry about, we will call you and tell you to do so.  If you are not getting that feeling, leave and do not look back.


If you have been searching for a lawyer with the experience to handle your legal issues, call our office today.  Don’t wait!  (770) 945-2320


Monday, February 10, 2014

Hiring Local Counsel: Who are they and why is it important?

There are many things to consider when hiring an attorney.  All these things will be a topic of another article; however, in this post we would like to discuss why it is important to hire “local counsel.”


Local counsel can mean three different things.  First, it can mean an actual physical presence in the jurisdiction.  For instance, our office is located in Suwanee, Georgia which is in Gwinnett County.  We would be considered local counsel for that jurisdiction given that our practice is established and maintained in that circuit.


Also, local counsel can mean that the attorney has close ties to that jurisdiction.  For instance, Phil Pilgrim was a prosecutor in Forsyth County while Amy Carter was a prosecutor in Jackson and Barrow Counties.  Therefore, our office has significant ties to those jurisdictions and we are intimately familiar with the inner workings of those offices.


Third, and most importantly, local counsel means that the practitioner practices in that jurisdiction currently, consistently and continuously.  Our office CURRENTLY, CONSISTENTLY and CONTINUOUSLY handles cases in Gwinnett, Forsyth, Hall, Barrow, Jackson, and Dawson Counties.  The result of this is that the prosecutors know our names, they know our reputations, and they know how to work with us as we do them. 


So, why is this important?  Being “Local Counsel” gives an attorney a bit of an edge in each case.  We might know what a particular prosecutor needs to hear in order to exercise discretion in your case, what a judge may do when confronted with a certain set of facts, or what avenues would need to be pursued when preparing your case for trial in a particular jurisdiction.  These are all things that can have a tremendous impact on how your case moves forward and the possibility of obtaining a result that meets your goals without having to risk a trial in front of jury of your peers. 


Obviously, we will handle cases anywhere.  There are many times when our client base wants to hire our firm specifically for our expertise in a particular area of the law; however, we have never been shy about referring out a case to “local counsel” in another jurisdiction when we believed that the client’s interests would be better served by another attorney handling their case. 


We want to do what is in the best interest of the people that walk through our door.  If you are looking for an attorney who will do what is right by you, do not hesitate to contact our office at (770) 945-2320

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Happens to My Bond Money?

So, you made it out of jail…and in just a shade under a couple thousand dollars!!!  Bonds can be expensive.  Throughout our career, we have seen bonds as low as a $300 and as high as $750,000.  The amount of the bond depends on many different things which could be the subject of a blog post itself; however, in this issue we will answer a question that we get asked by 80% of our clients: When do I get my bond money back?  Whether or not you get your bond money back depends on one thing, did you actually post the bond or did you use a bonding company. 


Because bonds can be very high (and let’s face it, no one has an “I got arrested” savings account) there are companies out there that have relationships/contracts with local sheriff’s departments allowing them to bond you out of jail.  Most of these companies charge you a fraction (10-15%) of what the actual bond amount is.  Therefore, if your bond is $10,000, you will agree to pay ABC Bonding a fee of $1,000 to sign onto your bond so that you can get you out of jail.  That company then has a pecuniary interest in ensuring that you show up to court and will often check in with you to make sure you plan to appear when notices are sent out.  If you have utilized one of these companies to get you out of custody, the money that you paid them is not a refundable fee.  Therefore, the 10% charge that you paid ABC Bonding is money that they get to keep and that is how that business makes money. 


Alternatively, there are people out there with the means to post their own bond without having to use a bonding company.  Therefore, if your bond is $5,000 and you happen to have $5,000 at your disposal, you would pay the local sheriff’s department that money plus some jail fees and other administrative charges.  Under these set of circumstances, when the time is appropriate you would receive the $5,000 that you paid to be released from custody.


When you receive this money depends on several factors.  Generally, this money is held in a trust account monitored by the Clerk of Court.  When your case is closed out, either by a plea, dismissal or jury verdict, the Clerk of Court will take note of the final disposition and cut a check to be mailed to the address on file of the “principal” (the person who paid the bond).  Thus, the bond money is not returned until the case is completed.  Alternatively, defendants are given a choice of allowing the bond to be paid towards the fine.  Therefore, if after disposition a fine is due to the Court, for example, in the amount of $1,000, at the permission of the principal the bond can be used to pay that amount and that which is left over will be returned to the appropriate person. 


If you have more questions about your bond and would like to discuss your case further, do not hesitate to contact our office today.


(770) 945-2320

Monday, January 20, 2014

When Should I Hire a Lawyer?

We receive a volume of calls at our office every week regarding people interested in retaining our services after being charged with a crime.  So often, people feel that time is on their side.  They get arrested and when they bond out they notice that they either don’t have a court date for another 3 months or they are told that they will receive notice in the mail.  So often, people sit back and push these looming issues to the back burner because, “Its months away, I will deal with it later.”  At least once a week people ask, when should I hire a lawyer?  My response to that question is, as you are walking out of the jail you should be making calls.  There are 4 very important reasons why you should hire counsel immediately and in this blog post, we will explain the benefits of hiring a lawyer in the early stages of your case.


First, a majority of defense attorneys have been in private practice their entire career.  At Carter ♦ Pilgrim, we come with past experiences in prosecution.  That experience gives us a tremendous amount of insight into “what the other side is thinking.”  Every case is different and the reality is, from the outset, most prosecutors have confidence in their officer’s, confidence in their cases, and preconceived notions about you.  They have seen a report/video and that is all they need to see.  Along with that, you are no different than everyone else you will be sitting with in court.


By hiring a firm like ours, we will have you working proactively to set you apart from the 100’s if not 1000’s of people being shuffled across the prosecutor’s desk on a weekly and monthly basis.  The things that we have you working on are strategically tailored to each individual case and formulated using the wealth of experience we gained during our number of years as prosecutors.  Our goal is to position you and your case to garner discretion and avoid a trial if possible.  By rule, if we could convince ourselves to reduce or dismiss your case, we can convince our adversary to do the same. 


Second, there are many types of charges that could continue to expose you to law enforcement questioning and investigation.  It is imperative to have counsel on your team during these times to advise you as to what level of participation (if at all) is appropriate.  Issues with your bond could arise, problems with a victim in your case could present, or the State may seek additional charges due to a continued investigation.  These are all things that having an attorney from the outset could help you navigate and possibly avoid.


Third, it takes time to get discovery (evidence).  Calling an attorney a day or week before you go to court does not give us any opportunity to prepare for your case.  We need to have a discussion with you to determine your side of the story, we need to obtain all reports and supplementals so we know what the state plans to present, and we need adequate time to review and absorb this information to formulate a plan and defense.  We are good at what we do; however, we are not clairvoyant and cannot work miracles.  Much of the time, pressure has to be put on the government to comply with our requests.  This takes time and time is one thing we will not have if you wait to hire a lawyer.  Judges are quick to not accommodate us with requests for continuance when our client has had months to retain counsel. 


Finally, in many cases, there are deadlines and timing requirements to file documents and requests to protect your rights.  We don’t know if those deadlines exist in your case unless you call us and we investigate it for ourselves.  Don’t assume nothing has to be done for months.  Many of these things cannot be fixed if a deadline is missed…so do not hesitate to pick up a phone if you have been arrested. 


Again, on a case by case basis, I could probably point out even more reasons why it would be prudent to get counsel on board immediately; however, the above four stated reasons are consistent with nearly every case.  If you have been arrested and charged with any type of crime, do yourself and your attorney a favor, make the call now and don’t wait.  The longer you put it off because you “just don’t want to deal with it right now” the harder times will be for you and your future counsel. 


Call us at (770) 945-2320 for a free case evaluation 24/7.  Our phones are forwarded after hours.  If we don’t answer, leave a message and you will receive a call back promptly.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

If I am stopped and investigated for DUI, should I submit to Field Sobriety Evaluations? (Part 5)

Finally, to answer the $1,000,000.00 question, should you take field sobriety evaluations if you have been stopped and asked to do so. 


First, Field Sobriety Evaluations ARE VOLUNTARY.  You are not required to take them; however, officers are not required to tell you that they are voluntary.  Generally, in an investigative situation, an officer will just begin instructing you to do things but will not let you know your participation is not required unless you inquire. 


Second, as indicated in my previous posts, there is a lot of subjective interpretation involved in field sobriety evaluations.  Most of what an officer observes on the side of the road cannot be seen on a video (if there is one).  Therefore, as attorneys, we are left with the officers observations when assessing your case and what manifestations are exhibited on video (if there is one).


Finally, field sobriety evaluations, overall, can be affected by external variables that have nothing to do with impairment.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult for anyone to tell whether the “clues” exhibited on any of the tests (other than the HGN evaluation when performed properly) were caused by impairment or something unrelated all together.  Therefore, it is my opinion that field sobriety evaluations do nothing to help your cause.  However, it is your decision and YOU are the only one encountering that decision at that time.  It is like I always say, whatever decision you made at the time was the decision you made, we will deal with it.  Honestly, it has been my experience on many occasions where field sobriety evaluations have helped me exonerate my client; however, remember every case is different as are peoples individual circumstances.


Whether you took fields or not, if you have been charged with a DUI, there is always a chance.  Give our office a call and let us help you. 


(770) 945-2320 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Non-Standardized evaluations used by Standard Officers. (Part 4)

In Part 4 of our Field Sobriety Posts, we discuss other evaluations that DUI suspects may be subjected to during an investigation.  These evaluations are not standardized or approved through NHTSA and generally are only as effective as the officer is at conveying his/her interpretations to the jury.  However, these are done with increased frequency and often have an impact on how cases are evaluated.


A list of these evaluations and explanation of how they work are:


  1. Alphabet Test
    1. Officer instructs a suspect to say the alphabet from one letter to another (ex: from E to U)
    2. Suspect is asked not to sing the letters
    3. Officer notes whether letters are transposed, omitted, or sung.
    4. Suggests that an individual can’t do a basic fundamental task due to impairment
  2. Rhomberg Evaluation
    1. Officer asks a suspect to put their hands to their side, tilt their head back, close their eyes, estimate the passage of 30 seconds, and once 30 seconds has passed, tilt their head forward and open their eyes.
    2. Officer is watching the subjects gait and getting a gauge on their internal clock.
    3. If there is a noticeable sway or tremors, this might suggest impairment
    4. A fast internal clock (estimates 30 seconds in 15 seconds time) could suggest the use of a stimulant while a slow internal clock could suggest a depressant.
  3. Finger to Nose
    1. Subject asked to tilt head back and extend arms out to their side and bend their arms to touch their finger tip to their nose.
    2. Measures major and fine motor skills
  4. Finger Tip Touch
    1. Subject is asked to touch their thumb to their first, second, third and fourth finger in sequence, and then in reverse order.  They are asked to count out loud and not to stop until told to do so.
    2. Measures fine motor skills and simple counting
  5. Preliminary Breath Test (PBT)
    1. A breath testing device that is utilized on the side of the road.  Although an officer sees a BrAC number, the only thing that is admissible in court is testimony of “positive” or “negative” for alcohol. 


Again, none of these evaluations are certified through NHTSA; however, they are commonly used.  With the right defense, they can be easily discredited.  Therefore, if you have been arrested for DUI and would like a thorough case evaluation, do not hesitate to contact our office.


(770) 945-2320

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand Evaluations: How they work and how they don’t (Part 3)

In this, Part 3 of our Field Sobriety Posts, we will discuss the Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand Evaluations.  These are the second and third evaluations that officers use on the roadside and both are classified as a divided attention test.  NHTSA has determined that divided attention tests are a good measure of driving ability because when operating a motor vehicle, you are required to pay attention to many things.  For example, if you were driving down I85, you have to pay attention to your speed, the cars in front of you, the cars behind you, the cars beside you, the speed of traffic, what’s on the radio, who you may be talking to in the car with you, etc…you get the point!  Your attention is divided between many different things. 


Both of these evaluations are designed to simulate this attention division.  For instance, in the walk and turn evaluation, a subject is instructed in the following manner:


  1. Imagine a line from where you are standing to (a designated point). 
  2. Place your left foot on that line and place your right foot in front of your left foot with your heel touching your toe.
  3. Remain in that position until I tell you to begin.
  4. When I tell you to begin, I want you to take 9 heel to toe steps down that imaginary line (officer demonstrates), when you reach the 9th step, leave your left foot on that line, take a series of small steps around your left foot back to the line and take 9 heel to toe steps back (officer demonstrates). 
  5. When you begin walking, dont stop walking until you are finished, keep your hands to your side, look at your feet while walking and count your steps out loud. 
  6. You may begin when you are ready


As you can tell, there is a lot to think about during this entire evaluation.  Failure to do things as you are instructed results in a “clue.”  For the Walk and Turn evaluation there are 8 possible clues and for the One Leg Stand there are 4 possible clues that can be exhibited.  The more clues shown by a subject, the more an officer can discern impairment.  When explained and demonstrated accurately, NHTSA has found that the Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand evaluations are 68% and 65% accurate, respectively. 


Unlike the HGN evaluation, these are not scientific.  They can be impacted by a multitude of things.  A persons balance and vestibular issues, environmental conditions (extreme wind or cold), weight, or age can have an impact on how they perform the evaluations.  Officers are trained to take those things into consideration when making decisions out on the side of the road; however, it is rare that they are identified and not attributed to impairment. 


If you have been arrested for a DUI and asked to perform these evaluations, do not hesitate to contact our office for a full case review to determine what defenses you may have to the charges.


(770) 945-2320

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The HGN Evaluation: How it works and how it doesn’t (Part 2)

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Evaluation is the first of the three standardized field sobriety evaluations discussed in the first blog of this series.  It is generally regarded as the most accurate and effective evaluation so long as it is done by a qualified, well versed officer.  This blog will discuss the HGN Evaluation; how it works, and how defense attorneys can attack it.


The HGN Evaluation is the only “scientific” evaluation.  When performed correctly, what you see is what you get.  There are no external variables that can impact the evaluation.  If clues are present, with very few exceptions, impairment can be interpreted (even a blood alcohol concentration (BAC)) with extreme accuracy. 


Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye.  What an officer is looking for is the eyes bouncing when tracking left to right at different points and angles.  It will pick up any Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant (alcohol and some prescription drugs). 


The evaluation is divided up into three phases (which I have renamed for explanation purposes): 


  1. (Medical) Clearance Phase
  2. Testing Phase
  3. Tolerance Phase


During the first phase, the officer determines whether the subject is qualified to participate in the evaluation.  During this phase, the officer swipes a stimulus (finger or pen) horizontally across the line of sight of a driver.  The subject is told to keep his head still and move only his eyes.  During this phase, the officer is looking for resting nystagmus (eyes moving erratically without movement side to side while tracking a stimulus), equal pupil size, and that both eyes move to follow the stimulus.  If the officer fails to see resting nystagmus, sees equal pupil size and equal eye tracking, the subject is clear to perform the evaluation.  If the officer does not, this may suggest a medical condition, head injury or other issue that would prevent the officer from moving forward. 


Assuming that the officer medically qualifies the participant, he/she will move on to the validated portion of the evaluation.  There are three validated portions. 


  1. Lack of Smooth Pursuit
  2. Distinct and Sustained Nystagums at Maximum Deviation
  3. Onset of Nystagmus Prior to 45 Degrees


Generally, there are two clues for each portion of the evaluation; one clue for each eye for a total of 6 possible clues.  Each portion of the evaluation has very stringent timing requirements for how quick the passes are made to the left and right; how long the stimulus can be held in a particular area; and how far the stimulus can be held from the subject.  The more clues you see going through the first, second, and third portions, the more impaired the subject is.  Assuming that the officer does everything properly, NHTSA has determined that the HGN evaluation is 77% accurate in distinguishing BAC’s above .10.  There are a select group of people called Drug Recognition Experts who go through a 6 month training regimen that can utilize this evaluation to fairly accurately tell what a person’s BAC is simply by observing where the nystagmus happens in the field of travel.  This is called Tharps Theorem, which is 50 - (angle of onset).   Therefore, if the DRE estimates the angle of onset at 35 degrees, 50-35=15. Therefore the subjects BAC should be near a .15. This is a very advanced procedure and is rarely allowed into evidence. 


Finally, the last portion is not HGN, it is actually Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN) where the officer moves the stimulus up and down instead of left and right.  This is not a validated portion of the evaluation; however, if the officer sees VGN, it suggests that the substance ingested is a high amount for that particular individual.  Obviously, that will vary from person to person which is why I call this the Tolerance Phase. 


 Although a very powerful tool in the officers "bag", HGN can be attacked by an attorney effectively if the attorney knows what he/she is looking for.  As mentioned above, if the officer doesn’t follow the timing requirements or other standardized protocol designated by NHTSA, the officer’s own manual says that the results are “compromised.”  It's possible to have the results of the evaluation thrown out or even use the officers lack of proficiency in that one evaluation to "compromise his/her entire investigation. Our office has been heavily involved in officer training on DUI Detection and Enforcement as prosecutors and we are also Standardized Field Sobriety Trained.  We can identify these issues and develop effective arguments to attack the results of the HGN evaluation. 


If you have been charged with a DUI, call our office immediately for a consultation.


(770) 945-2320

Friday, November 15, 2013

What are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests? (Part 1)

You may have watched the videos on YouTube, you may have heard about it from your friends, and some of you have been exposed to them personally; but, if you ever become the target of a DUI investigation, you will likely be exposed to what are called Standardized Field Sobriety Evaluations.  In this bog, we look at what these evaluations are.


The short story is: field sobriety evaluations were developed over a number of years and have been employed as tools utilized by law enforcement officers to determine if an individual is safe to operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs.  As lay people, we have seen the finger to nose evaluation, seen people recite the alphabet, watched people walk a line, and seen subjects stand on one leg.  There are many types of evaluations used by law enforcement in the normal discharge of their duties; however, there are only three evaluations that have been standardized by the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and verified to be accurate and effective when utilized properly.  Those three evaluations are:


  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Evaluation
  2. The Walk and Turn Evaluation
  3. The One Leg Stand Evaluation


Other evaluations are taught in Standardized Field Sobriety Courses; however, the above three are the only ones that have verifiable data suggesting their accuracy.  Their name tells you everything you need to know about them.  They are Standardized, meaning that they must be administrated in the exact same way every single time.  They are performed in the FIELD, meaning that elements regarding the environment may change which can have an impact on the evaluations and should be taken into consideration when formulating an opinion.  They aid and assist an officer in determining the SOBRIETY level of a subject.  Finally, they are EVALUATIONS, not tests; meaning they are not pass or fail, they are simply graded on a scale.  Obviously, depending on where you fall on that scale, an officer may use that information to opine that you are under the influence to the extent you are less safe to drive.


Each evaluation has its own separate components, distinct characteristics, as well as positive and negative aspects that lends to its effectiveness.  Officers are taught these evaluations over a period of four days, eight hours a day, for a total of 24 hours of training.  There is a classroom component and live participant component.  Both must be passed to receive a certification.


In the next five blogs, I will cover the following topics:


  1. The HGN Evaluation: How it works and how it doesn’t
  2. The Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand Evaluations: How they work and how they don’t
  3. Non-Standardized evaluations used by Standard Officers.
  4. If I am stopped and investigated for DUI, should I submit to Field Sobriety Evaluations?


If you have been stopped for DUI and submitted to any of the above evaluations, contact an attorney that has a practice focused on DUI Detection and Enforcement.  An office like ours can conduct a comprehensive review of your case to determine where mistakes were made. 


(770) 945-2320

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If you need assistance please contact our firm through our website or request a consultation online.

Carter Pilgrim Stroud, Attorneys at Law located in Suwanee, GA serves Cumming, Buford, Lawrenceville, Braselton, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Duluth, Norcross, Hoschton, Jefferson, Commerce, Dawsonville, Gainesville, and other surrounding areas.

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3725 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Rd, Suite A-4, Suwanee, GA 30024
| Phone: 770-945-2320

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