Eye Recording Device Detects DUI Suspects

CBS13

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Reporting Brandi Hitt

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Ever wonder what officers are looking for during a sobriety test? Is it possible to tell if you're drunk just by looking at your eyes?

The answer is yes, and new technology has been created to record it all.

It's a test that's performed all the time on suspected drunk drivers: Follow an officer's finger only using their eyes.

"We look at eyes," said Ron Waldorf. "Abnormal eyes stick out."

In fact, the eyes of a drunk driver can now be recorded using a new device, called "HawkEye," created by California company AcunetX. Ron Waldorf is the CEO.

"They still do the finger test, because I can still see your eyes," said Ron. The device records what officers see as evidence for criminal proceedings.

Using infrared lights, HawkEye transfers the images to a laptop computer. There's even a wireless microphone attached. Authorities have said for years that alcohol impairment makes the eyes jerk.

"Some drugs affect how your eyes move, others affect how your pupils react," said Ron. "Some drugs do both."

Retired L.A.P.D. Sergeant Dick Studdard has used HawkEye in field trials, and let us try it for ourselves.

"Follow the tip of the pen," he told me. "Both eyes are moving together and they're following the source."

How did I do? "You passed," Studdard said. A breathalyzer test had the same results.

Next, photographer Peter Roney drove us both to lunch, where I had a few cocktails. We went back to AcunetX for the second test.

The breathalyzer tests weren't surprising. It came back .14, well over the legal limit to drive.

The HawkEye test results also changed. "I'm seeing a little jerking of the eye," said Studdard. What does that tell him? "There's some impairment there," he said.

You can see it on the video: On the top are my eyes without alcohol, and below are my eyes while I was impaired.

To an expert, there's a noticeable difference. "The eye signs will be the same whether the person has no tolerance or high tolerance to alcohol," Studdard said.

That's why the California Highway Patrol has been using this device for three years, training cadets at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento.

"It's an excellent tool," said Officer Herbert. "It allows us to show exactly what we're looking for and what we're trying to describe. They can see it themselves."

But the CHP only uses HawkEye for training, not as a tool for arrests. The CHP told us it's not being considered for field use at all.

"It does take a little bit of time for the courts are going to allow us to use brand new technology," said prosecutor Deana Hays. With piles of cases, she says technology-backed evidence definitely helps get convictions, but new technology faces hurdles.

"You also have a judge, who's the gatekeeper, and is probably going to be hesitant about allowing that technology in until they have court opinions that say it's appropriate," said Hays.

So far, no HawkEye-recorded evidence has ever been used for prosecution in court. All drunk drivers arrested in field trials have pleaded guilty.

"I have no reason to believe these 'pictures' are going to be that influential on anybody," said Sacramento defense attorney Jeffrey Kravitz. He says breathalyzers and blood tests already get convictions for drunk driving.

If the HawkEye were used in drug cases, he says a doctor would have to testify about what the images mean medically.

"The video only capture the eye movement of the defendant," Kravitz said. "It does not capture what the officer is doing. In order to properly do the field sobriety test, you have to make sure the officer was conducting the test properly."

But the idea of recording eyes is gaining steam. The cities of Orange, Laguna Hills and Bakersfield have purchased HawkEye for training, along with several other agencies across the nation.

A handful – including Bakersfield – have even started using it at checkpoints. AcunetX hopes that's just the beginning.

"Eventually, it'll be out of the squad car, self-contained, battery-powered, with flash memory," said Ron. "They'll use it and store it in a car."

The next time you're stopped at a DUI checkpoint, if you can recite the alphabet, walk a straight line, and touch your nose with ease, just know there's one thing officers look for that you can't control, whether it's recorded or not.

"The eyes have it," said Studdard.

HawkEye video could wind up in court soon. Authorities in Cleveland told me a prosecutor was at one of their recent DUI checkpoints where HawkEye was being used, waiting for someone to get busted so he could use the "eye tape" in court.

Nobody they stopped that night was drunk.