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Houston Roadside Field Sobriety Tests

When investigating someone for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, officers will usually ask an individual to perform one or more standardized roadside field sobriety tests. These tests are designed to detect signs of intoxication, but they are flawed and often conducted improperly.

If you have failed a field sobriety test and have been arrested for a DWI, there are ways to challenge the evidence against you. The most important decision you will make is hiring a knowledgeable and experienced Houston DWI attorney at (713) 222-6767 who will protect your rights and aggressively fight the charges against you.

The three standardized field sobriety tests, which were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are the one-leg stand test, walk-and-turn test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. It is important to understand the reliability issues with these tests and that you do have the right to refuse to take Texas field sobriety tests in a polite manner.

One-Leg Stand Test

This a divided attention test, which is designed to assess a person’s ability to follow more than one direction at a time. The person must raise one leg six inches off the ground with the foot pointed out. Once the foot is elevated, the person will be asked to count out loud while staring at the pointed foot. The legs are to be kept straight and with arms to your side for the duration of the test, which will be for a period of 30 seconds. The officer will be looking for certain clues indicating impairment, which includes swaying, using arms to stabilize or balance, hopping or putting the elevated foot down.

The one-leg stand test is not perfect. Factors which can negatively impact the reliability of this test include being overweight, inner ear problems, back problems, poor balance, environmental conditions such as wind or road noise, or surface conditions.

Walk-and-Turn Test

This is also a divided attention test. The NHTSA guidelines state that the test has two phases.

  • During the first phase, you will be asked to stand with your left foot on the line with your right heel touching your left toe.
  • The second phase consists of walking heel-to-toe in a straight line. The line can either be real or imagined and you will have to walk nine heel-to-toe steps, then turn, keeping one foot on the line, and return for nine heel-to-toe steps. You will be asked to count the steps aloud and keep your arms at your side until the test is over.

Clues for intoxication during the instruction phase are an inability to balance, and starting before being instructed to do so. In the walking phase, the officer will be looking to see if you stop before the test is over, miss touching your heel to your toe, step off the line, have to use your arms to balance, improperly turn or miscount the steps.

This test has the same reliability issues as the one-leg stand test. As this test is more involved, it is more likely that you will fail if the officer provides unclear or incorrect instructions.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eye and is more likely to occur in an intoxicated person. The officer will ask you to keep your head still and to follow either his finger or, an object controlled by the officer, with your eyes only. There are no specific clues for this test, but the officer is looking to see whether nystagmus occurs before your eyes reach a 45-degree angle.

The problem with this test is that it is often administered incorrectly and it relies heavily on the officer’s subjective interpretation of your eye movement. Additionally, a number of other factors including fatigue, sunlight exposure, head lights from nearby traffic, or medical conditions may result in nystagmus.

Learn How a DWI Attorney Can Help

A DWI conviction can result in steep fines, community service, jail time and the loss of your driving privileges. If you have been arrested for DWI after failing one or more Texas field sobriety tests, you need the knowledge and experience of Houston DWI attorney Ned Barnett on your side.

Barnett has a stellar reputation for handling DWI cases and is committed to making sure each client receives quality legal representation at every stage of his or her DWI case. He is certified in standard field sobriety testing and the operation of breath test machines so he knows how to challenge DWI evidence.

He has over 30 years of legal experience that includes trying cases as a federal and state prosecutor. Barnett opened his own practice in 1994 and is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He has an exemplary reputation for providing ethical and superior legal advocacy, which has earned him an AV® Preeminent™ rating from Martindale-Hubbell® and selection to Super Lawyers.

Ned Barnett understands how devastating a DWI conviction can be to your future and he will fight to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. If you or a loved one are facing DWI charges, contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett today at (713) 222-6767 to schedule consultation about your case.