Pro & Cons of Texas Field Sobriety Tests

In Texas, one of the common ways that police agencies develop probable cause to arrest you for DWI is through field sobriety tests. Almost everyone is familiar with these tests from television and movies. However, most people are not as familiar with what the law is regarding these tests and how they can be used in the prosecution of a DWI.

Let us set the stage for this discussion with a hypothetical:

It is about 10 P.M. and you are driving by yourself, coming home from a retirement party for your boss in Houston. You got to the party at 7:45 P.M. and left at 9:45 P.M.

You consumed 3 beers during your time at the party and finished your last beer at 9:40 P.M., just before you left. You are almost home and driving the speed limit when you look up and see the dreaded flashing lights in the mirror.

Your heart begins to hammer in your chest and the first thing you think is “Am I going to get a DWI?” The police officer walks to your window and begins bombarding you with questions:

  • Do you know why I pulled you over?
  • Where have you been?
  • Where are you going?
  • Have you been drinking tonight?
  • How much have you had?
  • Can I please see your license, registration and proof of insurance?

In many cases, this will be followed by an invitation to step out of the car. At this point, chances are, the officer has already made up his mind that he suspects you of DWI and he is going to give you a field sobriety test.

Field Sobriety Tests in Texas

Think back to the questions the officer asked you and the answers you would have supplied:

  • No, I don’t know why you pulled me over.
  • At a bar having a retirement party for my boss.
  • I am going home.
  • Yes, I have been drinking tonight.
  • I have had 3 beers.
  • Of course, officer. Just let me get them for you.

Also remember that you finished the last beer about 20 minutes ago. The officer most likely smells the alcohol on your breath and the answers you gave him told him there was a good chance that you’re intoxicated.

Now comes the sobriety tests. There are 3 standardized tests that are endorsed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). They are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand.

There are specific ways that the police officer is supposed to administer these tests and specific instructions he’s supposed to provide to you. They should also be scored by the rules set forth in the NHTSA DWI Detection Manual. There are also specific conditions in which the tests are meant to be given, such as upon a dry and level surface, etc. What’s more, in Texas, the officer can give you non-standardized tests as well.

Pro of the Tests

There’s only one benefit that most attorneys recognize. If you know you haven’t been drinking, rarely will any harm come from taking the tests, although there have been instances of people being arrested with a .00% BAC.

Cons of the Tests

Of course, there are significant cons associated with the tests, including the following:

  • The highest reliability of any of the tests (the HGN test) is estimated by the NHTSA to be only 77%, i.e., in 23% of the cases it is wrong!
  • Many sober people cannot pass the standardized tests.
  • The conditions can cause you to fail the test if they’re not within the parameters set out by the NHTSA.
  • Your physical condition can cause you to fail the test (weight, injuries and age can be factors).
  • Many police officers make errors while administering the test that could cause you to fail.
  • The officer who has decided to give you the test may be suspicious of your intoxication status, thereby skewing his objectivity in the first place.
  • These results can be used against you at trial.

Experienced Houston DWI Lawyers Know Better

You can see why most DWI attorneys in Houston advise you to refuse a field sobriety test, unless you know you haven’t been drinking. If you’re in the Greater Houston area, and were charged with DWI based on the results of a field sobriety test, you’ll need an experienced DWI attorney.

Attorney Tad A. Nelson
Attorney Tad A. Nelson

A lawyer’s best weapon is his/her experience. The Houston DWI lawyers at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates have that experience and much more to bring to the table.

Attorney Tad A. Nelson & Attorney Amber R. Spurlock are both certified instructors of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and frequently train others on the 3-test battery.

Since 1991, Attorney Tad Nelson has accumulated a wealth of experience dealing with DWI cases in Texas and holds Board Certified® status in criminal law, is qualified to chair capital cases, and is officially recognized as a leading defense attorney when it comes to lawyering cases involving accusations of Driving While Intoxicated.

Put their experience to work for you today by calling 713-489-7373 to set up your initial consultation.

The Pro & Cons of Texas Field Sobriety Tests