Understand your rights if you’re asked to take a field sobriety test in Houston
In Texas and other states, police officers sometimes use field sobriety tests to determine whether a driver might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests were designed to measure how well a person can follow instructions while balancing or without experiencing eye-jerking motions.
Unfortunately, these tests are riddled with problems, and some of them can be difficult to pass, even when the person taking them is sober.
How accurate are field sobriety tests?
Texas police officers typically rely on 3 Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) if they suspect a driver of driving while intoxicated (DWI). However, the results of these tests are often considered insufficient evidence on their own in measuring intoxication due to their inaccuracy.
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. This test measures your ability to follow an object with your eyes. The police officer may hold a pen and move it from 1 direction to another approximately 12 to 15 inches in front of your face to check for eye-jerking motions. If an officer observes signs of impairment, they will take this as an indication that you’re likely intoxicated. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the HGN test has an accuracy of 88%.
- Walk-and-turn (WAT) test. The walk-and-turn test checks to see how well you can walk with 1 foot in front of the other, heel to toe, while taking a certain number of steps in a straight line with your arms held out to the side. The officer looks to see how well you can follow instructions while taking the right number of steps, keeping your balance and staying in a straight line. According to the NHTSA, this test is considered 79% accurate.
- One-leg stand (OLS) test. This test measures your ability to stand with a foot 6 inches off of the ground while counting out loud until the police officer tells you to put your foot back down. If you sway, move your arms to balance yourself, put your other foot down, or hop, the officer can deem you under the influence. According to the NHTSA, this test is considered 83% accurate.
What happens if I fail a field sobriety test?
If you fail any of these tests, the officer will likely ask you to take a breathalyzer test or immediately arrest you for DWI. Many of these tests are recorded via a camera within the patrol car, allowing the results to be observed by both prosecutors and defense attorneys. You will then likely have to stay in jail for 3 days.
All of the parts of a police drunk driving test were created by the NHTSA and have been shown to produce false results. A skilled DWI defense attorney will be able to take any evidence related to the testing and search for areas that may have led to an unnecessary arrest.
What factors can affect the accuracy of field sobriety tests?
Although field sobriety tests may be as accurate as 88%, they should not be considered proof of intoxication without including a breathalyzer test to measure a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level.
There are also a variety of factors that can influence the results of SFSTs, including:
- Medical conditions such as vertigo, inner ear infections, Parkinson’s disease or migraines
- Being overweight or obese
- Being over 65
- Environmental conditions like weather and lighting
- Uneven surfaces or certain types of shoes
- Stress, anxiety and fear
Am I required to take a field sobriety test if I’m pulled over in Texas?
Most drivers who are pulled over by police officers want to cooperate as much as possible because they think compliance is more likely to work in their favor. At the same time, there is no requirement in Texas to take field sobriety tests, so you can refuse if you want.
Unfortunately, police might tell you that it’s best to submit to the tests and may even arrest you if you refuse.
Is it riskier to agree to a field sobriety test or refuse?
There are risks to agreeing to take field sobriety tests. If a police officer decides that you are under the influence, you will be arrested for a DWI and could face certain consequences even if you were sober.
However, even though you’re under no legal obligation to perform a field sobriety test when asked to do so by a police officer, it can work against you. Texas has implied consent laws, which means that if you’re pulled over on suspicion of DWI and hold a driver’s license, you agree to submit to blood, breath or urine tests, as well as field sobriety tests.
Refusing to take a field sobriety test carries its own set of consequences. Your driver’s license can be suspended for at least 6 months even if you’re not convicted of a DWI.
In some cases, you may be permitted to take the state’s Administrative License Revocation Program, which allows you to request a hearing to dispute the suspension. A criminal defense attorney can represent you during this proceeding.
What are “no-refusal” weekends in Texas?
Texas has “no-refusal” weekends. These are certain weekend days when police officers are permitted to obtain search warrants for blood tests to check drivers they suspect of DWI based on traveling faster than the legal speed limit.
There is no specific law pertaining to no-refusal weekends, which means you still have the right to refuse to submit to a blood or breath test.
When do “no-refusal” weekends occur?
No-refusal weekends typically occur on weekend days during holidays when people are more likely to consume alcohol. The most common times when no-refusal weekends take place include the following holidays and celebrations:
- New Year’s Eve
- St. Patrick’s Day
- 4th of July
What happens if I refuse to take a test during a “no-refusal” weekend?
Although you can refuse to take a breath or blood test during a no-refusal weekend, it’s often better not to do that. Police obtain warrants to order these tests, which means refusing could have negative effects.
An officer could arrest you and take you to the police station if you refuse. If your case ends up going to court, it’s usually better to have taken a breath test instead of a blood test due to the greater room for error.
What should I do if I’m pulled over for DWI?
If a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of DWI, stay calm, be courteous and answer questions politely. Don’t admit to drinking, but stick to the bare facts and never provide additional information than what is asked of you.
You have the right to refuse to take field sobriety tests and even chemical tests at the scene. If you’re arrested and brought to the police station, you’ll have to take a blood, breath or urine test there. Breathalyzers are often the best choice because they’re less reliable than the others.
Contact an experienced DWI defense attorney at your earliest convenience if you’ve been arrested for DWI. It’s your best chance of having a strong defense created for your case.
Consult a Houston DWI attorney
The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp has extensive experience and resources available to examine any evidence related to DWI charges. To arrange for a free review of your DWI case, talk to The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today.