Killeen DWI Attorney Challenging Field Sobriety Tests

Strong advocacy for drivers charged with drunk driving in Harker Heights, Waco, Copperas Cove, and throughout Central Texas

Anyone who is stopped by a police officer will normally be asked by the officer to submit to one or more field sobriety tests. If a driver fails these tests, the driver will then usually be asked to take a breathalyzer test. There are standard field sobriety tests that are given in Texas and across the country.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our skilled Killeen DWI defense lawyers work to challenge the admissibility of field sobriety tests. Challenges include contesting the right of the police officer to stop your car, the failure to explain the tests properly, or the failure to explain what happens if you refuse to take the field sobriety tests.

What are the three standard field sobriety tests?

A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 4.2 million Americans admitted to drinking and driving in the prior month. The NHTSA authorizes only three field sobriety tests for use across the nation, including Texas. These tests were designed and based on controlled laboratory studies, and are as follows.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus test

In this test, the officer will ask the driver to step out of their car and move away from any flashing lights. The officer should check to see if you use contact lenses or have a problem with your vision other than wearing glasses. The police officer will hold a stylus, flashlight, or pen about 12-15 inches from your eyes. He/she will then ask to you to follow the stylus/flashlight/pen with your eyes while keeping your head still. Everyone has some involuntary bouncing eye movement when they follow an object. The HGN test checks to see if the bounce is exaggerated. The officer will also look to see at what point in the movement of the object your eyes bounce.

This test is often the one sobriety test that is subject to the strongest challenge. Officers aren’t trained eye doctors. They often fail to record the movements they saw or fail to be able to distinguish the eye movements from normal eye movements.

Walk and turn test

Here, the officer should explain the test and show you how it’s done. After asking you if you understand, the officer will then ask the driver to stand toe-to-heel. You should then walk in a straight line, turn around, and then walk back towards the officer. As you walk, your heel of your front foot should touch the toe of your rear foot. The officer will watch your feet while you walk to see if you:

  • Keep your arms at your side while you walk
  • Walk in a straight line
  • Count out loud incorrectly as you walk
  • Stop or stumble while walking
  • Lose your balance
  • Take nine steps in each direction.
  • Start before the officer stays to start
  • Don’t turn properly

There may be legitimate reasons why you fail this test other than intoxication. For example, the road may not be level, or the officer didn’t explain how close your heel and toe need to be together.

The one-leg stand test

In this test, the driver will be asked to stand erect with one foot raised off the ground for up to 30 seconds. The officer will ask you to count while your foot is raised. The officer is looking to see:

  • How long you can hold your foot off the ground
  • If you can count correctly
  • If you need to use your arms to keep your balance
  • If you move sideways or hop while performing the test.

As with the walk and turn test, there may be simple legitimate reasons for failing the test. For example, you may have a bad leg, you may be tired, experience normally poor balance, are overweight or have a health condition that affect your ability to do any physical test.

The police officer is giving these tests to determine if there is probable cause to give more invasive breath or blood tests. The tests can also be used as evidence without the chemical tests.

What if I refuse to submit to a field sobriety test in Central Texas?

Unlike breath or blood tests, if you refuse to submit to the three field sobriety tests, there is no direct penalty, such as a suspension of your license for failing to take the tests. However, the refusal to take the tests can be introduced at your DWI trial. By virtue of obtaining their driver’s license, Texans give their implied consent to breath and blood tests, which can result in losing your driving privileges for 180 days (or more for prior DWI arrests).

If you refuse the breath test:

  • You will likely be arrested for DWI, even if you were perfectly sober
  • The officer will need to rely on the breath test or blood test results, which may show low readings, which means you could be released. They could also show that your blood alcohol level is more than .08, which means you’ll be arrested.

Get help from an experienced Killeen DWI defense attorney

If you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated, you face the prospect of jail time, fines, increased insurance premiums, and other consequences. The seasoned Killeen DWI lawyers at Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm fight to have evidence suppressed, to negotiate fair plea agreements, and to aggressively seek acquittals before juries. For help contesting every part of a police officer’s testimony, including field sobriety tests, call us at 254-680-4655 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. Our offices are located in Killeen, Harker Heights, Waco, and Copperas Cove