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Were you drunk or just tired?

Out looking for drunk drivers as the bars close in Mt. Pleasant for the night, a police officer pulls you over around 2:30 in the morning. He says that you rolled through a stop sign. After talking to you for a moment, he asks you to get out of the car and do some field sobriety tests.

You do them, but not well. You trip and fall while trying to walk in a straight line. You can't stand up on one leg.

Here's the problem: You just worked for 12 hours in a row. With your commute, you had to get up a few hours before that. And all of that is coming off of a long and emotionally draining night where you got into an argument with a loved one. You slept for maybe four hours, and it was a restless sleep.

However, the officer thinks you are intoxicated and he arrests you. Now what? Is your argument that you just felt tired going to hold up?

A scientific link

The evidence falls strongly in your favor. There is a link between the two, as researchers have found that sleep deprivation impacts your body in the same negative ways that excessive drinking does.

"We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly," noted the lead researcher. "This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us."

Maybe you didn't see that stop sign and you tried to slow down when you did, but not enough. You didn't perceive the world properly, and you made a mistake.

During the field sobriety tests, maybe you made some mistakes because you did not understand exactly what the officer was telling you. Again, he thought you were intoxicated and couldn't comprehend his instructions. You just argue that your brain was not functioning at 100 percent because of pure exhaustion, not alcohol.

"We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity," said another researcher. "Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual."

This is not the first study to find these links, but it makes it very clear. Your brain does not function the way you expect when you're too tired. An outside observer who perhaps is already biased to think you're drunk -- that officer was on a DUI patrol at 2:30 a.m., after all -- may not be able to tell the difference.

Your rights

This is just one example of the ways that you can get mistakenly arrested for a DUI. If this happens to you, it is critical that you find out all of the legal defense options you have.

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