You were driving home after a party. On your way, you came across a DUI checkpoint. The officer said he smelled alcohol on your breath and asked you to perform some field sobriety tests. You figured you only had a couple beers, so the tests should be no problem. To your surprise, you performed badly, and now you are charged with DUI.

If the police observe signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, glassy eyes or alcohol on your breath, they can ask you to take field sobriety tests. If you do not pass the tests, the police can ask you to take the breathalyzer. Of course, you still have the right to refuse testing.

In Illinois, there are three common field sobriety tests: 1) the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN), 2) the One-Leg Stand and 3) the Walk and Turn test. Sometimes an officer could ask you to recite the alphabet or even pick up coins, but these tests are becoming increasingly outdated. For the HGN, an officer may ask you to follow an object such as a pencil with your eyes from side to side. If your eyes bounce up and down instead of moving smoothly, it could indicate impairment. The One-Leg Stand requires you to stand on one leg held up about six-inches high with your arms at your side for about 30 seconds. In the Walk and Turn test, you are asked to walk nine steps in a straight line, then turn and walk back.

Several factors can influence the results of these tests even if you have not been drinking. For the HGN, a number of over-the-counter medications can cause your eyes to waver. Some people fail the test because of a natural condition that causes their eyes to jerk or bounce. For this reason, many judges are skeptical about HGN evidence.

Regarding the One-Leg Stand, some people have naturally poor balance. A leg or hip injury can cause you to wobble or put your foot down prematurely. Maybe you were working late and became tired? Exhaustion can also affect the test result. Some experts believe the One-Leg Stand is inherently unreliable, as it forces people to hold a position they would never take in real life.

Factors that could affect the Walk and Turn test include the condition of the pavement, how the instructions were given and what you were wearing. Is the pavement uneven or smooth? Icy, wet or dry? Sloped or flat? Were you asked to walk on a real line or imaginary line? Did the officer demonstrate the test so that you understood what to do? Did you perform the test in bare feet, comfortable shoes or were you wearing heels?

Your performance on all these tests could be affected if you have a language barrier. If you cannot understand the instructions, you might not perform as well as you could. You might appear intoxicated on video of the tests, even though you may have just been scared and confused.

If you are charged with DUI, contact an experienced criminal lawyer immediately. Do not discuss your case with others or police. Just like in cop shows, any statements you make can be used against you. An experienced attorney can review your case for a possible defense. In appropriate cases, an attorney may even get the results of a field sobriety test or breathalyzer thrown out along with the charges against you.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email
For more information, see National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

About mdkeenan

A criminal and school law attorney with over 17 years of experience, I have successfully represented clients all over the Chicago area. My practice includes DUI, felony, criminal, misdemeanor, homicide, internet crime, retail theft, traffic offenses, cyberstalking, drug crimes, weapons violations, domestic battery and juvenile crime. I also represent families involving school cases. My clients come from all over the Chicago area including Skokie, Wilmette, Niles, Northbrook, Glenview, Evanston, Winnetka, Highland park, Northfield, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect. I am a member of the ACLU and the Illinois State Bar Association. I serve as a volunteer for First Defense Legal Aid. Se habla espanol.
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