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DUI and the HGN

Georgia residents who are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol may be asked by law enforcement officers to participate in field sobriety testing. One common test used to check for DUI is the horizontal gaze nystagmus. What exactly is this test, what are officers looking for, and is it an accurate indicator of impairment?

Nystagmus is a term that refers to the natural jerking motion the eye makes when rolled to the side. When a person is impaired, this jerking motion is said to be exaggerated. With the HGN, an officer will ask a test participant to look directly at an object, such as the tip of a finger, pen or flashlight, and follow the object with his or her eyes. A non-impaired individual will be able to do this smoothly and with little eye jerking. An impaired individual will not have smooth eye tracking, and eye jerking will occur well before the eye reaches maximum deviation.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, this test is extremely accurate. Of course, it all depends on how it is administered and how well the administering officers have been trained. Human error is certainly this test’s downfall.

A failed HGN does not mean one will be convicted on a DUI charge. One may be able to fight the results of this test in a Georgia criminal court. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know the right questions to ask and be able to investigate this in every other aspect of one’s case, making it possible to achieve a case dismissal or at least a reduction in charges or penalties.

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