If you are stopped by a Texas law enforcement officer who suspects you are driving while intoxicated (DWI), you will be asked to submit to standardized field sobriety tests. Standardized field sobriety tests were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a tool to help officers make more arrests for DWI and deter other drivers from driving while under the influence of alcohol. Read on to learn more.
What are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
Standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) are assessment tools used by law enforcement officers to determine the mental and physical state of drivers who might be impaired. They are used to establish probable cause for an arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI). There are several different SFSTs, though only three tests are recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as valid for determining a driver’s level of impairment:
- One-Leg Stand test
- Walk-and-Turn test, and
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test.
Law enforcement officers are typically trained to administer SFSTs in the police academy before graduating. They are supposed to be certified before asking a suspect to perfom the tests and should take refresher courses to maintain their certification. They are taught to look for certain clues while a driver is performing that might indicate intoxication to the point the driver has lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties. Even though an officer may say they are “just making sure you are okay to keep driving,” what they are really doing is trying to gather enough evidence that gives probable cause for an arrest.
Why are Standard Field Sobriety Tests Problematic?
SFSTs can be problematic for the government’s DWI case because they must be administered according to a specific protocol in order to be valid. If law enforcement officers do not follow the protocols exactly, the results of the tests can be called into question as to their reliability. It is possible to challenge the evidence that the prosecution offers–police errors can be a key defense against DWI charges.
Another issue with SFSTs is that there are concerns about their accuracy, outside of errors in administering them. Though NHTSA approves of the tests, inaccuracies can arise if the person suspected of DWI submits to the test but is overweight, over a certain age, has a medical condition or injuries that could interfere with the test results. The field sobriety tests also are inaccurate in situations where environmental conditions impact a suspect’s test performance such as location (level & smooth vs. slanted with gravel), surface conditions (wet vs. dry), and the weather (wind, snow, ice, etc.). Other naturally occurring conditions with the driver can lead to poor results on the SFSTs like distress, lack of sleep, nervousness, and pressure while being asked to perform balancing tests with an armed police officer watching every move.
How to Fight a Failed Sobriety Test
If you have been arrested and charged with DWI based on the failing results of the SFSTs, you can fight those charges. Field sobriety experts often refute the use of SFSTs, finding fault with the way the tests are administered and the methods that are used to assess intoxication due to alcohol. The tests are too subjective and arresting officers have a natural inclination to judge based on personal discretion regardless of how an individual performs on the tests. Many officers would rather arrest a driver that smells like they have been drinking just to get that person off the road than make sure the prosecuting attorney has enough evidence to justify the arrest. Time and time again drivers in Texas have begged an officer not to arrest them because they were not intoxicated only to have the officer respond with, “That’s for the judge and the lawyers to figure out.”
If you are facing DWI charges in Houston, Texas or the surrounding area after an officer claims you failed the standardized field sobriety tests, it is in your best interest to retain an experienced attorney for legal representation in your case. Attorney Collin Evans is a knowledgeable and skilled defense attorney who will help you fight the charges against you. He has over a decade of experience with DWI cases and always fights for the best results possible for his clients. Contact Collin Evans Law online or by phone at 713-225-0650 to discuss the details of your case.