When you are pulled over under the suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI), you can expect the police officers to do a few things. They will ask you a few questions. This is to see what you say about where you have been and where you are going as well as to see if you slur or stumble over your words. They will usually ask these questions while giving you a task, like getting your driver’s license and proof of insurance, to observe whether you have a hard time dividing your attention.
If the officers still suspect drunk driving, they may ask you to get out of the vehicle and then ask you to perform a physical test of some sort. These physical tests are known as standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) and are entirely voluntary. The police will not tell you this, but if you are asked to perform one or more SFSTs, you can politely say no.
While refusing to take these tests limits the evidence the police are able to gather, it will not stop you from being arrested for a DWI. You may still face charges and need an experienced Houston DWI lawyer like Ned Barnett to help you.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standardized three field sobriety tests:
- The one-leg stand: Officers may ask you to stand on one foot while holding the other about six inches above the ground. You will then be asked to count starting with one thousand until told to stop approximately 30 seconds later. Officers will look to see if you sway, hop or use your arms to balance, or put your foot down.
- The walk-and-turn test: Officers may ask you to take nine steps in a straight line, placing your heel to your toe each step. At the ninth step, you will be instructed to turn around on one foot and return the same way. Officers will look to see if you can follow instructions, count the proper amount of steps, keep your balance without using your arms, and remain in in a straight line.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN): Your eyes make involuntary movements all the time, particularly when you look to the side at an extreme angle. When you are inebriated, these jerky eye movements are even more noticeable and occur at less extreme angles. During the HGN test, the officers will ask you to look at an object and then follow it with your eyes to the right and left, without moving your head. The officers will be looking for jerking eye movements and at what degree from center they occur.
Problems With SFSTs
The SFST have been studied and shown to be somewhat accurate in determining whether a person is inebriated. Conversely, these tests have some major weaknesses. Numerous issues can affect your ability to perform these tests well even while entirely sober, such as poor footwear like high heels, restrictive clothing, rocky or uneven terrain, poor weather, physical disabilities, neurological disorders, common illnesses, and much more. You may not have had a drop to drink that day and still fail the one-leg or walk-and-turn tests. HGN is similarly weak. Numerous health issues, medications, and over-the-counter drugs could impact your eye movement, creating a false positive for inebriation.
What to do During a DWI Stop
If you are pulled over by the police under suspicion of drunk driving, you can either submit to all of the tests the police ask you to perform or you can politely refuse. You have the choice, and you have the right to decline taking any physical tests during a traffic stop.
This also means you can refuse at any time during the stop. Just because you performed one test does not mean you have to continue with the second or third. You can politely stop at any time.
If you wish to help your potential case, limit the officer’s reasons to arrest you, and limit the prosecutor’s evidence against you during a DWI case, then politely tell the officers you will not perform any tests until you have spoken with an attorney.
Call a Houston DWI Lawyer for Help Today
Whether you performed the SFSTs during a traffic stop or not, you may be facing DWI charges. This type of charge can be intimidating, particularly when you realize you could spend time in jail or lose your driving privileges. But remember, there are numerous ways to defend yourself against allegations of drunk driving.