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Inaccuracies Of Field Sobriety Tests

Posted by Jason English | Jul 17, 2022 | 0 Comments

Individuals charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas may be able to highlight the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests in their defense.

In Texas, police officers who suspect a driver of driving while intoxicated (DWI) may administer field sobriety tests. These tests help officers to determine whether to arrest the driver for DWI. However, the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests may lead officers to arrest drivers mistakenly. Unfortunately, failing a field sobriety test may lead to a charge of driving while intoxicated—even though field sobriety tests are unreliable. A knowledgeable attorney may be able to dispute the results of a field sobriety test. To learn more about how an inaccurate field sobriety test may impact a DWI case, consider contacting Jason English Law at (512) 454-7548.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests are tests police officers administer to evaluate whether a driver is intoxicated. When a police officerstops a driver, the officer may have the driver undergo a field sobriety test. However, these tests are riddled with problems and can lead to improper accusations of driving while intoxicated. Field sobriety tests purportedly assess a driver's:

  • Cognitive state
  • Balance
  • Coordination

There are three main components to field sobriety tests:

  • First, a driver must stand on one leg and count. If the driver loses balance, the officer may conclude that he or she is intoxicated. However, several factors can cause a driver to lose balance. For instance, if a driver performs a field sobriety test during severe weather, the weather conditions—not intoxication—may cause the driver to be unable to stand on one foot.
  • Second, the driver must walk in a straight line, turn, and walk back in a straight line. Uncomfortable shoes or any number of other factors may cause the driver to fail to walk in a straight line. The officer may incorrectly conclude that the driver is intoxicated.
  • Third, the officer examines the driver's eyes to look for horizontal gaze nystagmus—eye movements that may suggest intoxication but could also stem from other causes.

Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are supposed to show whether a driver is intoxicated. However, according to the Field Sobriety Testing Resource, one study determined that officers overestimated intoxication when they administered field sobriety tests. This suggests that taking a field sobriety test makes a driver more likely to appear intoxicated. Thus, rather than showing whether a driver is intoxicated, a field sobriety test may make a driver appear intoxicated. Moreover, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, field sobriety tests are only correct 66 to 75 percent of the time. Over a quarter of field sobriety tests yield inaccurate results. Several factors can cause someone to appear intoxicated during a field sobriety test even when he or she is not intoxicated, including:

  • People who suffer nervousness when confronted by the police
  • Tired drivers
  • Drivers who have consumed too much caffeine
  • Drivers with certain medical conditions
  • Drivers with balance problems

Additionally, police officers can make mistakes when performing field sobriety tests, leading to unreliable results. The experienced attorney at Jason English Law can help clients who have been accused of DWI shed light on the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests.

Texas Driving While Intoxicated Law

Texas courts often rely on the results of field sobriety tests to establish driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions. The act of driving while intoxicated is illegal in Texas. According to the Texas Penal Code, a person is guilty of DWI when he or she operated a motor vehicle in a public location while intoxicated. The minimum punishment for a first-time DWI conviction is six days in jail. Additionally, the driver may be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor if he or she had previously been convicted of driving while intoxicated or similar offenses. A Class A misdemeanor is a more severe crime than a Class B misdemeanor and carries a minimum penalty of thirty days in jail. The similar offenses include the following:

  • Operating a watercraft while intoxicated
  • Operating an aircraft while intoxicated
  • Operating or assembling an amusement park ride while intoxicated

A history of other offenses also increases the penalty for a DWI conviction. Two prior convictions of DWIs or similar offenses can elevate the DWI to a third-degree felony. If an individual has previously committed intoxication manslaughter—causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, or amusement park ride—then a subsequent DWI becomes a third-degree felony. Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors, carrying penalties of at least one year of confinement. According to Texas Law, a third-degree felony carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison coupled with a fine of up to $10,000. Thus, a DWI conviction may have serious consequences.

Challenging Field Sobriety Tests

As a DWI conviction may negatively impact an individual's life, a person accused of DWI may wish to assert that the field sobriety test that led to his or her arrest was unreliable. If the results of a field sobriety test led officers to arrest the driver, and the state charged him or her with a crime, the driver may benefit from challenging the field sobriety test. The driver or his or her attorney may assert that the officer who administered the field sobriety test made a mistake, rendering the test unreliable. Alternatively, the driver or attorney may argue that the driver failed the field sobriety test for a reason other than intoxication. As appropriate, expert witnesses may be called upon to point to the unreliability of the results of the field sobriety test.

Contact a Texas Attorney Today

The inaccuracies of field sobriety tests present a serious problem for Texas drivers. Inaccurate field sobriety tests may lead to unjustified charges of driving while intoxicated, and drivers may suffer wrongful convictions as a result. Officers may also administer field sobriety tests unreliably, and simply the act of giving a field sobriety test may make an officer biased to see a driver as intoxicated. When a driver faces a DWI charge, he or she may assert that the field sobriety test used for the arrest was inaccurate. If you have been charged with DWI based on a field sobriety test, consider contacting the knowledgeable attorney at Jason English Law by calling (512) 454-7548 to schedule a consultation.

About the Author

Jason English

Jason English grew up in his dad's personal injury law practice in Tarrant County, graduated from Texas A&M before getting his law degree from St. Marys University School of Law. Initially he worked in his father's firm on personal injury, wills and probate, as well as, family law cases. Soo...


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