Field Sobriety Tests in Texas
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As in other states, Texas conducts field sobriety tests in order to determine a driver’s level of sobriety. Field sobriety tests are notoriously wrought with problems and concerns. It is important to understand your rights, the different laws regarding field sobriety tests, and how these tests should be conducted here in Dallas. Ideally, field sobriety tests are conducted properly and lawfully. However, when you get pulled over and questioned by police for DWI, it can be easy to forget all the finer points related to a properly administered field sobriety test.
Generally, a field sobriety test is conducted in order to evaluate your reflexes, balance, and mental capabilities. Specifically, there are three tests that are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association:
- One-Leg Stand
- Horizontal Gaze
While these three tests are recommended and are most often utilized by police, none of them are perfect. The tests allow for officers to test your sobriety, but these tests can also lead to skewed or inaccurate results.
The One-Leg Stand has two parts. During the first part, the officer will give you instructions to keep your feet together and to stand with your arms at your side. Once the officer has completed the instructions, you will begin the balancing and counting stage of the test. During this stage of the test, you will be asked to raise one leg off the ground about 6 inches. While that leg is raised, you are asked to count for 30 seconds, starting with ”œone thousand and one.” During this phase of the test you are required to keep your arms at your side. While you are completing this test, the officer will notice if you are (1) hopping, (2) swaying, (3) using your arms for balance, and/or (4) putting your foot down. Generally, if the officer observes you doing at least 2 of these, you will fail the test.
It is pretty easy to imagine the variety of problems associated with conducting this test. Some common distractions and concerns involve whether the ground is uneven or not paved, passing cars, and the police car’s flashing lights. Furthermore, people that are overweight, have a physical disability, or over 65 years old are generally more likely to fail the test.
The Walk-and-Turn is another popular test administered by Texas officers. In this test, you will be asked to walk nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then turn and repeat the process. Before you begin the test, the officer is required to inform you of the detailed instructions. These instructions involve: placing your left foot on the line and then putting your right foot in front of the left, keeping your arms at your sides throughout the test, counting your steps out loud, and constantly watching your feet. Once you confirm that you understand these instructions, you are allowed to begin the test.
As the officer looks on, she looks for as many as eight different clues to determine whether you are impaired. The officer looks to see if you (1) have trouble balancing during the initial instructions, (2) start the test too soon, (3) stop while walking, (4) use your arms for balance, (5) don’t touch heel-to-toe, (6) take the wrong number of steps, (7) step off the line, and/or (8) lose your balance during the turn or turn incorrectly. If the officer determines that you have failed even two of these indicators, then you will be deemed to be an impaired driver. This test is highly criticized because the officer is required to use her own judgment in determining whether you have failed the test. The heel-to-toe test allows for an officer to indulge her possible biases or preconceived notions that you are impaired. As with the other test, several distractions (passing cars, flashing lights) may impact your ability to properly complete this test.
Lastly, the Horizontal Gaze test allows for officers to test your sobriety by checking your eye movement. To get technical, this test checks your horizontal gaze nystagmus. This just refers to the involuntary jerking that happens to your eyes as they move side to side. Generally, when you are sober, your eye movement is smooth and so, if the officer observes your eyes jerking a lot during this test, you are likely impaired.
To administer this test, the officer will ask you to hold your head still while looking straight ahead and, while using your eyes only, follow a thin vertical object (usually a pen) as she moves it back and forth in front of you. During this test, the officer looks for three different things: (1) lack of smooth pursuit by your eyes, (2) distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation – here, the officer directs the left eye toward the left ear as much as she can and then keeps this position for about four seconds while observing any jerking of the eye, and (3) the angle of onset of nystagmus prior to forty-five degrees – here, the officer will observe the presence of jerking of the eye at the forty-five degree area between your shoulder and your nose.
The Ability to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Texas
While administering this test, it is important for the officer to record the results. Occasionally, the officer forgets to complete this step and can lead to the evidence being deemed inadmissible. While you have the legal right to refuse to participate in a field sobriety test, the officer is not required to inform you of this right. Also, refusing to take the test will likely lead to your arrest.
Officers in Texas also have the ability to test your blood alcohol level after getting pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving. Here, an officer will measure the concentration of alcohol in our breath in order to help determine if you are driving while impaired. While refusing to take a field sobriety test is legal, it is illegal to refuse an officer the ability to measure your blood alcohol content. This is because Texas is one of the many states that follow the implied consent law. This law means that by operating a vehicle in the state, you have consented to being tested for alcohol.
Do You Need an Attorney?
As you can see, it is important that you understand the differences among field sobriety tests and what the officer looks for when you complete each test. Being aware of the details of each test will allow you to be better prepared should you ever be faced with the situation of being pulled over and asked to complete one or more of these field sobriety tests. Contact our firm right away to help with your Dallas County, Collin County or Navarro County DWI.
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