DWI Stops & Testing: Field Sobriety Tests

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The Field Sobriety Tests in a Texas DWI - Police officers throughout the state of Texas, and in Harris County and the Houston area, vigilantly monitor and prosecute drivers who are suspected of a Texas DWI or Texas DUI. If a driver appears to be driving in an erratic manner, a Texas police officer may pull them over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Once the driver has been pulled over, the police officer will look for signs of intoxication, such as the smell of alcohol, red, watery eyes, slurred speech or delayed reactions. If the officer has reason to believe the driver is intoxicated, the driver could be asked to get out of the vehicle and take field sobriety tests. These are a set of standardized physical tests, and while most people believe they are legally required to take these tests, in fact, you may (politely) refuse.

It is important to note that by refusing to take the field sobriety tests you are, in effect, limiting the evidence the police can gather against you, however, a refusal will not prevent you from being arrested for a Texas DWI. The standard field sobriety tests have been shown to be “somewhat” accurate in determining inebriation, however they also have some major weaknesses. There are a number of issues which can affect your ability to perform well on the standard field sobriety tests, including:

  • Poor balance;
  • Inner ear problems;
  • Obesity;
  • Advanced age;
  • Mental impairments;
  • Restrictive clothing;
  • Inclement weather;
  • Speech or hearing impediments;
  • Poor vision;
  • Certain illnesses;
  • Fatigue;
  • Anxiety regarding the field sobriety tests;
  • Certain prescription drugs;
  • A sloped and/or rocky surface, or
  • Improper shoes, such as high heels for a woman.

You might agree to take the field sobriety tests, but after the first one, could change your mind—perhaps the shoulder where you are being asked to take the tests is particularly rocky or sloped, or perhaps your balance is not very good, and you realize the tests rely, to some exten,t on balance. The point is, even if you have taken one of the three tests, you can change your mind and refuse to perform the other two tests. The three standard field sobriety tests include the following:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • The Walk-and-Turn, and
  • The One-Leg Stand

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is performed by the officer observing your eyes as you follow a slow-moving object, such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally. The police officer is looking for jerking movements of the eyes or an inability to follow the object. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is considered to be approximately 88 percent accurate in determining impairment.

The Walk-and-Turn requires the driver to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, then a pivot to begin walking back in the opposite direction. The police officer will be looking to see if you take the correct number of steps, if you turn correctly, and if there is any loss of balance. Finally, the One-leg stand will require you to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground, counting out loud for about 30 seconds, while the police officer observes whether you are using your arms to balance, whether you put a foot down, whether you are swaying, or whether you are hopping to maintain your balance.

The problem with these tests is that many people would be unable to pass them—particularly, the one-leg stand—even when they are absolutely sober. Those who do not have really good balance are probably unable to hold one foot off the ground for thirty seconds without swaying, hopping, or putting a foot down.

Should You Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests? Whether or not you should refuse the field sobriety tests is a somewhat complex question, and the answer is based on many different things. If you have had absolutely nothing to drink, have taken no drugs (prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal), have no medical conditions, and have pretty good balance, then taking the field sobriety tests could, potentially, allow you to go home and try to forget about the stop. If, however, you are the least bit unsure about the tests, you are better off refusing and asking for an attorney. Even if you have had only one drink, your balance could be affected.

Further, if you are a woman who is wearing heels, the tests are going to be exponentially more difficult. By refusing the field sobriety tests there will be no misleading footage used against you in court. The only evidence will be a breathalyzer test, which your Houston DWI attorney may be able to challenge. On the other hand, you may be slightly more likely to be arrested on suspicion of DWI if you refuse the field sobriety tests. In the end, roadside sobriety tests are actually designed for you to fail, and by the time a police officer has asked you to perform the field sobriety tests, his or her mind is probably already made up as far as your guilt or innocence.

Can Your Texas Field Sobriety Tests Be Challenged? As your Houston DWI lawyers will tell you, police officers use field sobriety tests to determine your level of impairment. That being said, the police officer’s determination of how you perform on the tests is relatively subjective. Several studies have shown that police officers found totally sober participants to be impaired after putting them through the field sobriety tests. Whether this was because the officer expected the individuals to do badly or whether the individuals had medical or balance issues which caused them to do badly, many stone-cold sober individuals were judged to be impaired based on field sobriety tests. The three field sobriety tests commonly used have been found to be inaccurate as often as 30 percent of the time, with the One-Leg Stand having even higher inaccuracy rates. For any of these Harris County field sobriety tests, the police officer may not have properly administered the instructions, leading to a poor performance.

How a Sullo & Sullo Houston DWI Attorney Can Help - It is important that you know your rights in the event you are stopped. A police officer will rarely tell you that field sobriety tests are not required, because they want evidence to use against you. If you have been arrested for a DWI in Texas, you should know that Texas DWI laws can be complex. Field sobriety tests, as well as Harris County breathalyzer tests and Harris County blood alcohol tests can often be challenged successfully in court. Being convicted of DWI in Texas based on Harris County field sobriety tests can lead to Harris County jail, as well as Harris County criminal records.

The Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal defense lawyers will thoroughly assess your Harris County arrest, including the circumstances around the arrest and whether you agreed to field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer test. Our goal is to prevent you from being sentenced to Harris County jail and to prevent you from having a Harris County criminal record which can follow you for a very long time.  Contact an experienced Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal attorney today.

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