Field Sobriety Tests

Often portrayed in an action movie or an episode of cops, most people have seen a field sobriety test. However, not many people are ever subject to one of these exams. In Texas, a field sobriety test is designed to determine whether an individual is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or another controlled substance. In a field sobriety test, a police officer decides based on physical observations rather than chemical samples like blood, breath, or urine. As a result, this is a very subjective standard and is left to the discretion of the field officer.

Due to the subjective nature of field sobriety exams, they can be incredibly inaccurate. Police officers are required to undergo extensive training on how to identify and administer these exams. Field sobriety exams must be conducted with extreme particularity, and the arresting officer must ensure that the instructions are given in the same manner each time.

Texas Field Sobriety Test Attorney

If you need help challenging your field sobriety test results, our legal team at The Benken Law Firm can help you defend your rights. Brian Benken at The Benken Law Firm is a skilled defense lawyer who treats every case as his utmost priority and is dedicated to securing his clients’ future.

To schedule a free consultation, call (713) 223 - 4051 today. The Benken Law Firm serves clients throughout all communities in Harris County including Houston, Spring, Humble, Webster, Crosby and more.

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Information Center

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Causes of Inaccuracies in Field Sobriety Tests

There are several reasons for inaccurate readings on field sobriety exams. Among them are:

  • Age;
  • Balance and Coordination;
  • Physical impairments (back, leg, hearing, or vision)
  • Language Barriers;
  • Nervousness or emotions;
  • Weather changes; and even
  • Subjective police testimony.

Specifically, age can hurt an individual’s emotional or physical abilities and thereby impair their ability to perform on these exams. Language barriers may make it difficult to understand instructions given by police officers. Even being a little nervous may result in a tick or fast speech, which can give the police officer reason to believe that the individual is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or some other undetected substance. If it is too cold outside and the individual begins to shiver, the police may mistake this bodily reaction as a side effect of drugs. Each case is different, but it is important to be aware of the fallacies involved in field sobriety tests.

Any deviation in the administration of the field sobriety exam may lead to a dismissal. In addition, because of the subjectiveness of a field sobriety exam, the evidence is heavily reliant on the testimony of the arresting officer. Therefore, if an individual is facing charges stemming from a failed field sobriety exam, it is extremely important that they immediately contact a Texas DWI defense attorney.

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Are Field Sobriety Tests Mandatory?

At times, we feel programmed to participate and adhere to all orders from police officers. However, absent the individual’s expressed consent, officers require a warrant to conduct a field sobriety test. Due to the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests, the appropriate decision may be to politely refuse. It is likely, however, that refusing to participate in a field sobriety test will result in an arrest.

It is important to note that even if an individual is arrested, the prosecution carries the burden of proving that the individual was driving while intoxicated beyond a reasonable doubt. Without definitive results from a chemical exam and field sobriety test, the prosecution will have a challenging time proving each element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Different Types of Field Sobriety Tests in Texas

Unlike many other states, Texas has three distinct types of field sobriety tests: (1) the One-Leg Stand Test; (2) the Walk and Turn Test; and (3) the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test.

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One Leg Stand Test

The One Leg Stand Test is a popular method of determining whether an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The One Leg Stand Test is often portrayed in movies and tv shows as a prominent method of conducting a field sobriety test.

During this examination, the police officer will ask that the suspect stands with one foot approximately six (6) inches from the pavement while counting for a period of up to thirty (30) seconds. During this period, the police officer will inspect any variance from the “normal” reaction. The officer will look at whether:

  • The individual used their arms to gain balance;
  • The individual had difficulty balancing or swayed from side to side;
  • The individual failed to keep balance and fell; or
  • The individual failed to keep balance and placed their foot on the pavement.

If a police officer suspects that an individual is operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, they will likely request a One Leg Stand Test. Any small mistake or misstep may result in an officer believing that an individual is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or some undetected illegal substance.

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The Walk And Turn Test

In addition to the One Leg Stand Test, Texas police officers also utilize the Walk and Turn Test. Under this test, the police officer measures an individual’s coordination and balance by making them walk a straight line and then requesting that they turn around after a set number of steps. Before the examination, the police also is supposed to provide clear and detailed instructions on how to perform the test. For starters, an individual will be instructed to walk from heel to toe without stomping. Their eyes must be facing the ground and they cannot use their arms to maintain balance. Similar to the One-Leg Stand test, the officer will be checking to see if the individual:

  • Loses their balance;
  • Fails to turn around as instructed;
  • Stomps; or
  • Fails to follow instructions in any manner.

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The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN) is another common method of testing whether someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. During this test, the police officer will have the individual closely follow an object with their eyes. The police officer will slowly move the object back and forth. During this time, the police officer will gauge how well they follow the object and the jerking of their eyes. If their eyes experience a rapid or exaggerated jerk, this may indicate substance abuse.

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Key Takeaways

Field sobriety tests can be extremely inaccurate. Various studies have measured the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): the One-Leg Stand test was only 65% accurate; the Walk and Turn test was only 68% accurate; and finally, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test was 77% accurate. This means there is at least a 10% chance that an individual will be subject to an inaccurate reading.

It is important to make the correct decision on whether to participate in a field sobriety exam. At times, this may seem like choosing the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, if an individual is facing DWI charges, it is extremely important to contact a local attorney specializing in DWI defense.

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Additional Resources

Texas Field Sobriety Training – The Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) is a program to improve the administration and consistency of DWI investigations. This organization specializes in minimizing the inaccurate reading of Field Sobriety Tests.

Field Sobriety Informational – Field Sobriety Tests provide excellent information on standardized field sobriety testing and non-standardized testing. This resource will provide the means of testing, accuracy readings, and other relevant information.

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Houston Field Sobriety Test Attorney | Harris County, TX

If you need assistance challenging Texas field sobriety tests, contact The Benken Law Firm. Brian Benken is a skilled criminal defense attorney that has handled the toughest DWI cases in Houston. He will aggressively pursue dismissal or reduction of your charges.

To schedule a free consultation, call (713) 223 - 4051 as soon as possible. The Benken Law Firm has offices in Houston but accepts clients in other communities including West University Place, The Heights, Bellaire, and Downtown Houston, and throughout all parts of Texas.

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