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Could High Visibility Police Lights Affect the Results of Field Sobriety Tests?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Midland Texas DWI LawyerMany police cruisers are now equipped with next-generation high-intensity lights, including LED strobes and windshield column floodlights. While these lights are great for visibility on the scene of a traffic stop, are they actually having an effect on the accuracy of DWI field sobriety tests? How does this equipment affect DWI field tests?

High-intensity lights are also now in the hands of officers who once had to rely on underpowered hand-held flashlights to illuminate a dark parking lot or street corner. The new lights are not only brighter, but they are also important tools when subduing a suspect. These devices are designed to disorient and temporarily blind suspects, mainly because of the light beam’s intensity. One field officer compared the impact of strobe lights to the disabling capability of a Taser or a quick kick in the groin. These devices are also designed to disrupt a person’s peripheral vision, which may have an impact on depth perception.

According to manufacturers and users, the currently available advanced flashlights cannot cause permanent blindness or other related problems.

Field Sobriety Tests

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration may be a prosecutor’s best and perhaps only evidence when the case goes to trial. This is especially true if the suspect refuses a chemical test such as a Breathalyzer. Officers may perform other tests, such as counting backward or reciting a portion of the alphabet, but these non-standardized tests do not have nearly as much authority as those that the NHTSA recognizes.

Let’s look at the three tests that comprise the SFSTs and how they can be affected by high-intensity lighting:

  • The walk-and-turn test, or the ability to walk toe-to-heel in a straight line, is directly related to visibility. If the suspect cannot see, it is nearly impossible to move in a straight line. Other environmental factors magnify this effect. For example, drivers may be asked to walk a straight line while wearing high-heel shoes or boots, or they may be asked to walk an imaginary line as opposed to an actual line, like a parking lot stripe.

  • The one-leg stand can be similarly affected. It is nearly impossible to maintain balance while one of the person’s most important senses is compromised. The disorienting effect may also cause a lack of focus.

  • Finally, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test may be totally invalidated. In this exercise, the participants follow a fixed point with their eyes, such as a pen or a fingertip, without moving their heads. The test is only 88 percent reliable in ideal conditions. If the officer administers the exercise in the field while the subject is temporarily blinded, the accuracy rate drops even more.

Contact a Travis County DWI Defense Lawyer

At Morales Law Office, Attorneys at Law, PLLC., we understand how to analyze a prosecutor’s case and develop a strategy for countering the state’s arguments. Contact an experienced Austin drunk driving defense attorney to discuss your situation in a free, no-obligation consultation. Call 512-474-2222 to schedule your appointment today.

 

Sources:

https://www.police1.com/police-products/duty-gear/flashlights/articles/high-intensity-crimefighting-with-next-generation-strobe-lights-0VKCAA5uO7eYghao/

https://www.nhtsa.gov/dwi-detection-and-standardized-field-sobriety-test-sfst-resources

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