Photo: ODT on Flickr
Most people believe that pretty much everyone who gets arrested for DUI is obviously guilty, and that law enforcement has done a good thing by getting them off the road.
But did you know that not everyone arrested for a DUI is actually guilty?
That surprises a lot of people, but it’s true. In this post, I’ll explain why innocent people sometimes get arrested for DUIs and what to do if it happens to you.
How Do Innocent People Get Arrested for DUIs?
Getting arrested can be a scary and unpleasant experience, no matter what the circumstances. So how can can you be accused of a DUI when you’re not driving drunk? It happens for two basic reasons:
1. There’s no penalty for arresting an innocent person.
What law enforcement doesn’t want you to know is that police officers usually don’t know for sure whether someone is really driving under the influence. They’re usually making a semi-educated guess. Police officers suffer no consequence for arresting someone who turns out to be innocent, so they arrest them anyway.
2. Field sobriety tests aren’t always fair.
A while back, I wrote about why you should never take field sobriety tests. This is one of the reasons.
Every law enforcement officer in America is supposed to have been trained and updated on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards and manuals for DUI investigation and detection. These manuals were developed after several studies concluded that psychophysical testing for people suspected of driving under the influence needed to be standardized.
Law enforcement doesn’t want you to know that, statistically, their tests are flawed, and the vast majority of the time they do not administer or score the tests as they are supposed to, which invalidates all of the science and statistics behind them.
What’s Wrong With Field Sobriety Tests?
There are currently three standardized field sobriety tests that the NHTSA has deemed somewhat accurate indicators of a person being under the influence of alcohol:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
- Walk-and-Turn (WAT)
- and One-Leg Stand (OLS)
Even when administered correctly, these tests are not completely accurate. Even under ideal circumstances, innocent people can be determined as likely being under the influence.
Let’s look at the first test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, as an example. It looks for an involuntary jerking of the eye caused by alcohol consumption. Problem is, this jerking can also be caused by over 40 other things other than alcohol, including caffeine intake, stress, and wind.
Another large problem is that according to several studies, even in ideal circumstances, this test is only 77-88% accurate at detecting someone under the influence. That means, theoretically, as many as 23% of innocent people won’t be able to pass the test. Those are not good odds. 1 out of 4 people may be deemed to be under the influence according to this test, even though they’re not.
Worst of all, this is the most statistically accurate test of the three, the other two are even less accurate in ideal circumstances.
What Should You Do?
If you get arrested on suspicion of a DUI, and you know you’re not drunk, what should you do? First, you should know that you can’t really “fail” field sobriety tests. What I mean by that is that the tests aren’t the final end-all determination of whether you were driving under the influence or not.
I will continue to write more about these tests in future blog posts to help everyone understand why, despite law enforcement accusing you of driving under the influence, the chances that you are innocent and wrongfully accused are greater than you think.
If this happens to you, don’t panic. The best thing you can do is not answer any further questions and hire a lawyer as soon as possible.
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Montana, give us a call to discuss your case and how you can fight it.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.