DWI Field Sobriety Tests in Texas

When a driver is pulled over by law enforcement in Texas, the officer may ask the driver to perform some roadside tests. These Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are supposed to help the officer determine whether the driver is intoxicated. Unfortunately, these tests can be highly inaccurate and can be used against the driver to justify the arrest.

Drunk drivers can pass the roadside sobriety tests and sober drivers can fail these tests. Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in Texas and there are no penalties for refusing these tests. If you were arrested on suspicion of a DWI, talk to your experienced Odessa DWI defense lawyer about any field sobriety tests you performed to understand your rights and defenses.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Texas DWIs

There are 3 standardized roadside tests used by law enforcement. These tests are supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) to be used to help law enforcement officers determine if a driver may be intoxicated by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of drugs and alcohol. These tests include:

  • Walk and Turn Test
  • One Leg Stand Test
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

When evaluating these tests, the officer is not just looking for you to physically perform the test, but also whether you are following directions, starting too soon, or doing the right number of steps.

Walk and Turn Test

The walk and turn test (WAT) involves walking in a straight line, putting one foot in front of the other. After a certain number of steps, the individual is supposed to turn around, keeping one foot on the line, and returning, heel-to-toe.

There are “clues” the officer looks for when the driver is performing this test. This includes:

  • Losing balance,
  • Starting too soon,
  • Stopping while walking,
  • Missing heel to toe,
  • Stepping off the line,
  • Using arms to balance,
  • Improper turn, or
  • Wrong number of steps.

One Leg Stand Test

In the one-leg-stand (OLS) test, the driver is to stand with heels together and arms to the side. When asked, the driver is to raise one leg approximately 6 inches off the ground, with the foot pointed out, and count until told to stop. The clues in the OLS test include:

  • Swaying,
  • Using arms to balance,
  • Hopping on one foot, or
  • Putting the raised foot down too soon.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is an eye test. The officer asks the driver to keep his or her head still and follow an object with their eyes (like a pen or flashlight). The officer is looking for smooth tracking and the angle where there is a jerking movement of the eye.

Problems with DWI Field Sobriety Testing

While the NHTSA and law enforcement claim these tests are accurate in helping officers decide whether a driver might be impaired, there are many problems with the accuracy of these tests. There are a number of reasons why an otherwise safe or sober driver may fail these tests, including:

  • Medical issues,
  • Weight,
  • Footwear,
  • Improper instructions,
  • Failing to properly observe the test,
  • Uneven roadways,
  • Environmental conditions,
  • Nervousness,
  • Flashing lights, or
  • Dangerous traffic conditions.

According to the NHTSA, field sobriety testing should be performed under ideal conditions. Unfortunately, standing on the side of the road as cars speed by does not seem ideal, especially at night. Police officers undergo brief classroom training to learn how to conduct field sobriety tests and test them. This leaves plenty of room for error when police forget certain instructions, count at a different rate, or estimate what degree of eye movement shows the driver may be impaired.

Are Roadside DWI Tests Mandatory in Texas?

Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in Texas. There are no penalties for refusing to submit to a roadside sobriety test. The officers may make it seem like it is in your best interest to do the tests but make sure what you are giving up by agreeing to perform these tests.

If the police ask you to perform a field sobriety test, they may have already decided to arrest you. By having you do additional tests that they can observe and judge, they ware gathering additional evidence to use to justify making an arrest.

Odessa DWI Lawyer

An experienced DWI defense attorney can help you build a defense that gives you the best shot at a favorable outcome, including challenging the use of roadside tests to justify an arrest. If you've been charged with a DWI in Odessa, Texas, the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC is here to fight for you. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified criminal defense attorney that has dedicated his law practice to defending the accused. To set up a free consultation contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach today at (432) 552-7000.