The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
Evidence in Drugged Driving Cases and Buffalo, MN DUI Lawyers
May 13, 2020
One day soon, marijuana Breathalyzers might revolutionize drugged driving prosecutions in Wright County. Under current law, if the defendant’s THC level was above five nanograms per milliliter of blood, the defendant was intoxicated as a matter of law. Marijuana, whether it was legally acquired or not, is the leading source of drugged driving prosecutions in Minnesota, followed by prescription medications like Xanax and Oxycontin.
For the foreseeable future, prosecutors must normally rely on rather thin circumstantial evidence to convict defendants in these situations. The burden of proof is very high. So, in order to overcome the presumption of innocence, the amount of evidence must be almost overwhelming.
Given the current environment, a skilled Buffalo, MN DUI lawyer is often able to successfully resolve these cases. That resolution could be a complete dismissal of charges, a not-guilty verdict at trial, or a favorable plea bargain arrangement.
Unapproved Drug Impairment Tests
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has approved three field sobriety tests for use in DUI-drug arrests. These tests arguably have some scientific basis, although that basis is rather shaky, as outlined below.
Nevertheless, many Wright County law enforcement officers have defendants perform unapproved tests as well. These tests fatigue defendants mentally and physically, so they do not do as well on the tests that count. Additionally, unless a Buffalo, MN DUI lawyer objects to their use, these test results are usually admissible in court.
Romberg’s balance test is probably the most common unapproved test. A German scientist developed this test about two hundred years ago. Subjects must stand perfectly straight while their eyes are closed and their heads are tilted back. This position robs subjects of the three things needed to maintain balance, which are:
Knowing the position of one’s body (proprioception),
Knowing one’s head position (vestibular function), and
Sometimes, officers add additional bells and whistles, like having subjects touch the tips of their noses with their index fingers.
A Buffalo, MN DUI lawyer can normally get this test, and other tests, excluded. However, it’s sometimes best to let an officer try to explain things like “vestibular function” and “proprioception” to jurors. If the officer does not know the underlying principles of this test, which is likely, it looks like the state is trying to railroad the defendant.
Buffalo, MN DUI Lawyers and Approved Drug Impairment Field Tests
The Horizontal Dage Nystagmus test is usually the first approved test in the three-test battery. Subjects must follow moving objects, like ink pens, using only their eyes. If a pupil moves involuntarily at certain angles, the subject probably has nystagmus.
Drug impairment is one cause of nystagmus. But it’s not the only cause. It’s not even the leading cause. Genetic abnormalities and mild childhood brain injuries cause most nystagmus cases. This condition is also known as lazy eye. Many people have a lazy eye, but the symptoms are so mild they do not know it.
The bottom line is that many people “fail” this test even if they are not high or stoned. As a result, many Wright County judges only admit HGN test results for limited purposes.
The Walk and Turn usually comes next. Walking a straight line is probably the signature drug impairment field test. During this exam, officers look for a number of clues, such as swaying or not walking heel to toe, which indicate drug impairment.
Environmental factors often affect this test. It’s very difficult to walk an imaginary line unless the surface is perfectly level and flat. Additionally, it’s hard to maintain concentration when cars whiz by at high speeds and flashing strobe light dance on the top of the squad car.
By the time defendants get to the One Leg Stand, they are usually fatigued mentally and physically, especially if they had to do unapproved tests. Under these conditions, anyone with any mobility impairment will be unable to pass this test. Additionally, officers often issue failing grades on this test because of technicalities, like holding the elevated leg at slightly the wrong angle.
Drug Recognition “Experts”
DREs are police officers who have additional training in this area. That additional training usually comes exclusively from a brief, police-sponsored seminar, so its educational value might be limited.
If the DRE comes to the scene of the arrest early and administers the field sobriety tests, these individuals have some credibility. They are better able to grade tests than officers on the street.
But frequently, DREs arrive after the FSTs are in progress or completed. If they testify in court, a Buffalo, MN DUI lawyer can usually challenge the testimony. Their conclusion is based on hearsay, and under Minnesota law, these police officers normally do not qualify as “experts.”
Contact an Assertive Attorney
It is not easy for the state to prove DUI-drug cases beyond a reasonable doubt. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN DUI lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.