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Can a field sobriety test be used against me if I was arrested for DWI?

Field sobriety test


The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) was first implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) during the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, U.S. transportation officials and researchers sought effective ways to address the disproportionately high drunk driving fatality rate. The SFST is a battery of three exercises. These exercises are used by law enforcement officers to determine if someone is driving under the influence of alcohol. These three tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Everyone's eyes tend to jerk and dart when rotating at certain angles. This is known as nystagmus. For people who are impaired by alcohol, eye jerking is more pronounced. During an HGN test, a police officer will ask you to follow a moving object (such as a pen or small flashlight) with your eyes from side to side.
  • Walk-and-Turn Test. An officer will ask you to take steps heel-to-toe in a straight line, then turn on one foot and repeat. An officer may suspect that you are impaired if you have trouble keeping your balance or following directions.
  • One-Leg Stand Test. An officer will ask you to stand on one leg with the other foot six inches off the ground. The officer will then ask you to count while balancing on one leg until further notice. If you have trouble balancing, hop on one foot, or put your foot down, the officer may suspect that you are impaired.

Do I have the right to refuse a field sobriety test?

In the event that you're pulled over by police, there is a chance they could suspect that you have been drinking and driving. The last thing you want to do is feed their suspicion by giving a reason to further probe you.

If you agree to take the SFST, your performance could give the officer probable cause to administer a breath test, search your car or even make an arrest. You have nothing to gain by taking a field sobriety test, so it's best to avoid it. In fact, you are under no obligation to take the SFST in Texas, nor are there any legal consequences for refusing to take it. Under Texas's implied consent law, you are required to take a breath or chemical test, however.

What if I already took a field sobriety test before my arrest?

If you already took the SFST before your arrest, the results could potentially be used against you in court. The results can just as easily be disputed by an experienced Texas DWI attorney, however. Here are some common reasons why the results can be disputed:

  • The results of the SFST are only admissible if the test is properly administered. There are some officers who are poorly trained in giving the SFST. They may give inaccurate instructions or fail to comply with the NHTSA requirements. The validity of these results is compromised if not administered correctly, and therefore, inadmissible in court.
  • It's very difficult to perform a field sobriety exercise, even for most sober people. Let's face it. If you asked the average person to stand on one leg for some time or walk heel-to-toe, there's a good chance they might stumble. Your inability to adequately perform a one-leg stand or heel-to-toe walk doesn't equate to being impaired by alcohol. There are many people who don't have the physical coordination to perform these exercises. Being overweight or elderly can also make it extremely difficult. In fact, when the early SFST studies were conducted by the NHTSA and the Southern California Research Institute, the following people were excluded from participation because they had difficulties performing the exercises:
    • People ages 65 and older
    • Those who had back, leg, or inner ear problems
    • Those who were overweight by 50 lbs. or more
  • Certain medical problems can make it difficult to perform these exercises. Injuries to the head, arms, legs, feet, back, neck, and eyes can affect a driver's ability to perform the SFST. Balance and coordination can also be affected by vertigo, low blood pressure, fatigue, certain neurological conditions, anxiety and the use of certain medications.

Put experience on your side

If you were arrested and charged with DWI in Texas, your freedom and future could be at stake. For a first-time conviction, you'll likely face up to 180 days in jail, pay a fine of up to $2,000, and lose your driver's license for up to one year. These consequences can have a significant impact on your life and the ability to pursue or maintain employment.

It's critical that you promptly consult with an attorney who has the courtroom experience and legal knowledge to help you fight the charges. Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer knows how the criminal justice system in Texas works. Contact us online or call us to find out how we can help you.