Off-Duty Police Officer Wrongly Arrested for DUI

How might a sober person fail a field sobriety test?

Recently, an Atlanta police sergeant was awarded over $100,000 from Forsyth County following his false arrest for a DUI.  News outlets report that in August of 2017, off-duty sergeant Paul Sparwath called 911 to report some teens behaving in a suspicious manner in his neighborhood.  He notified the 911 operator that the teens were possibly breaking into cars.  A responding deputy let the teens go, but notified other deputies that he smelled alcohol on the off-duty sergeant’s breath.

Despite Sergeant Sparwath’s insistence that he had just finished an 18-hour shift and had not consumed any alcohol, the responding officer performed a field sobriety test.  Following administration of the test, the sergeant was arrested.  At the station, a Breathalyzer test found Sparwath’s blood alcohol content to be .007, far below the legal limit of .08.  A blood test listed his blood alcohol content as zero.  Charges against the sergeant were later dropped and the county forced to pay out for its wrongful treatment of the law abiding off-duty officer.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Always Accurate

Sergeant Sparwath’s arrest illustrates an alarming reality—sober individuals can fail a field sobriety test and find themselves under arrest.  Field sobriety tests, despite their widespread use across the nation, are simply not always accurate.  Certain conditions can cause individuals who have not used drugs or alcohol to perform poorly and be deemed to have “failed” the test.

There are three basic field sobriety tests that have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  These include: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand.  Each of these tests are susceptible to false positives by some drivers.  For example, several conditions like vertigo, problems with the inner ear, excessive nicotine, too much caffeine, eyestrain, and more can all lead to eye twitching that can be confused for alcohol consumption.  Further, both the walk and turn test and one leg stand can be inaccurate for individuals with medical conditions impacting their balance or physical mobility.  At times, even extreme fatigue can lead to false results on a field sobriety test.

Given the known potential failures of field sobriety tests, it is critical for anyone arrested for a DUI on the basis of a field sobriety test to contact a DUI defense lawyer right away. Your DUI attorney will take immediate steps to protect your legal rights.

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Carter Pilgrim
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