By knowing and exercising your rights under the law, you may be able to prevent a wrongful driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction. In Texas, most motorists spend hours on the roads, boulevards, and highways without understanding what they should do if a police officer stops them and requests that they submit to a field sobriety test.
Consult with a knowledgeable DWI lawyer to explore your options under Texas law after police officers pull you over for a sobriety check.
What Is a Field Sobriety Test?
Police officers perform field sobriety tests on motorists to establish probable cause for DWI. Minors under the age of 21 can also be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) if the officer detects evidence of alcohol. In Texas, officers administer three separate physical examinations to determine if an individual drove while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
What Types of Field Sobriety Tests Do Officers Use?
In addition to breathalyzers, police officers use three field sobriety tests before making a determination regarding probable cause for an arrest for suspicion of DWI. These include the one-leg-stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus tests.
One-Leg-Stand (OLS) Test
During the OLS test, the police officer will ask you to stand on one foot with your arms to your sides as you count aloud. Signs of possible intoxication include:
- Extending your arms for balance
- Putting your foot down before completion of the test
- Inability to count
Walk-and-Turn (WAT) Test
The WAT test requires motorists to walk in a straight line by putting one foot directly in front of the other while keeping their arms at their sides. The driver must count each of the first nine steps aloud before turning and taking another nine steps. Signs that a driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol include:
- Walking before the officer gives you the instruction to start
- Stopping during the first or last nine steps
- Stretching your arms out for balance
- Walking a crooked path instead of a straight line
- Turning the wrong way
- Wrong number of steps
- Incorrect counting
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
The most accurate field sobriety test for a possible DWI, the HGN test looks for involuntary twitching or shaking of the eyeball when a person scans his eyes to the side. The officer will hold an object, such as a pen, and ask you to follow the object with your eyes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has studied the reliability of the HGN test since the 1970s. Depending on which NHTSA review is cited, the HGN test has an accuracy rate of 77% to 88% in determining a driver's blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit.
Do I Have to Submit to a Field Sobriety Test If a Police Officer Asks Me To?
No. You can refuse to submit to a field sobriety test in Texas without incurring any penalty. The team at Jason S. English Law, PLLC, recommends for most situations that you refuse the field sobriety test when an officer requests that you submit to it. Instead, search online for a DWI lawyer or contact us.
Note that if you do not take the field sobriety test, police officers may still possess sufficient evidence from their dashboard cameras to establish probable cause.
During some holidays and major sporting events, your local jurisdiction or the Texas Department of Public Safety may institute “No Refusal Weekends.” Despite the name, motorists may still refuse to participate in a field sobriety test. However, the police officer is allowed to detain you in your vehicle while securing an electronic warrant to administer a breathalyzer or draw blood. Refusal to abide by the warrant may result in harsh penalties for contempt of court, including jail time.
Are Field Sobriety Tests Effective?
In general, field sobriety tests are adequate for determining whether someone is too drunk to drive. Courts have acknowledged field sobriety tests as sufficient evidence for a probable cause arrest. However, all three field sobriety tests have flaws.
An experienced DWI defense lawyer may attack a field sobriety test by arguing that:
- The test is not 100% accurate
- Test failures sometimes result from a medical condition or emotional state
- Testing conditions were improper or unfair
- Incorrect test instructions were given
Can a Field Sobriety Test Serve as Evidence in Court?
In Texas, prosecutors often submit field sobriety tests as evidence in DWI and DUI cases. Video of a failed sobriety test serves as valid proof of intoxication in most cases. Paradoxically, a video of a passed sobriety test can still prove that a motorist drove while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, especially if the defendant admits to the recent consumption of those substances.
Even if you are sober, a field sobriety test can create legal problems for you. Individuals with poor balance, neurological disorders, inner ear infections, and other medical conditions may fail any or all of the field sobriety tests without having ingested alcohol or drugs.
A failed field sobriety test does not guarantee a conviction for DWI or DUI. Experienced attorneys know how to undermine the credibility of field sobriety tests, challenge the ways that officers conduct them, and present affirmative defenses to keep your criminal history and driving record clean.
Did you submit to a field sobriety test before your recent arrest? If so, you need a competent DWI attorney who has represented many clients who found themselves in the same situation. Jason English, founder and chief executive officer of Jason S. English Law, PLLC, is a former prosecutor who's now on the other side of the courtroom as a DWI defense lawyer. Call us today at 512-454-7548, or fill out our online form for a free consultation in Austin, TX.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient's state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.