Failing a DUI Field Sobriety Test but not drunk
August 8th, 2009
One of the "standardized" field sobriety tests routinely given in a Seattle DUI arrest is the "eye test" otherwise known as the test for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. In this test, the DUI arresting officer looks for "bouncing" or "jerking" of the eyes as they follow a stimulus, usually a finger or a pen. If the bouncing begins at a forty-five degree angle or earlier, the police say there is a strong likelihood that the driver is legally drunk. This test is administered throughout Washington State in DUI investigations and relied upon by DUI officers in making arrest decisions, but these officers are not eye doctors and the literature has revealed a staggering number of other causes for nystagmus. What follows is a list of other possible causes of nystagmus: (1) problems with the inner ear labyrinth; (2) irrigating the ears with warm or cold water under peculiar weather conditions; (3) influenza; (4) streptococcus infection; (5) vertigo; (6) measles; (7) syphilis; (8) arteriosclerosis; (9) muscular dystrophy; (10) multiple sclerosis; (11) Korchaff's syndrome; (12) brain hemorrhage; (13) epilepsy; (14) hypertension; (15) motion sickness; (16) sunstroke; (17) eye strain; (18) eye muscle fatigue; (19) glaucoma; (20) changes in atmospheric pressure; (21) consumption of excessive amounts of caffeine; (22) excessive exposure to nicotine; (23) aspirin; (24) circadian rhythms; (25) acute trauma to the head; (26) chronic trauma to the head; (27) some prescription drugs, tranquilizers, pain medications, anti-convulsants; (28) barbiturates; (29) disorders of the vestibular apparatus and brain stem; (30) cerebellum dysfunction; (31) heredity; (32) diet; (33) toxins; (34) exposure to solvents, PCBS, dry cleaning fumes, carbon monoxide; (34) extreme chilling; (35) eye muscle imbalance; (36) lesions; (37) continuous movement of the visual field past the eyes, i.e., looking from a moving train; (38) antihistamine use. However, the list continues to grow of causes of nystagmus that do not include alcohol. One physician believes that mineral deficiency can cause nystagmus. Nystagmus remains a controversial item of evidence in Washington State DUI cases. A competent DUI attorney practicing in any court the Seattle area or within Washington State should be familiar with the challenges that may exist to the use of Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus in as an attorney defending a DUI charge.