If you are pulled over while you are driving, you may face searches or tests to make sure you are not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Failing these tests can lead to criminal charges and even suffering the consequences of a conviction.
There’s something you might not know, though – these tests don’t have to be taken in the first place.
Below, we’re going to go over Texans’ rights in regards to field sobriety tests and what you can do to prevent DWI charges. Law enforcement officers will not always be clear when they instruct you through a traffic stop, so the more you know, the more you can be in control of your situation.
First things first, though…
What Is a Texas Field Sobriety Test?
If law enforcement officers pull over a driver who they suspect might be under the influence, they can conduct one of three tests before pulling out a Breathalyzer. These tests include:
“Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus” (HGN) Test
This test involves officers shining a light in your eye and asking you to follow a pen or other object as the officer moves it.
The officer is looking for nystagmus, which is an involuntary jerking of the eyes that is sometimes caused by alcohol consumption. Nystagmus is not a result of certain drug use, including marijuana or hallucinogenic drugs. It may be affected, however, by:
- Police car lights flashing in your face
- Inner ear fluid
- Brain damage
- Eye damage
“Walk the Line” Test
You may have seen this test in movies or television shows before. The officer will ask the driver to walk a straight line, one foot in front of the other. While stumbling and falling can certainly be the sign of alcohol consumption, it can also be the sign of a clumsy or nervous person.
The “One Leg Stand” Test
Last but not least, police will ask you to stand on one leg for 30 seconds. If you have to put a leg down, even toward the end of the test, the police will have evidence against you to make an arrest. Again, this is not the easiest test for people who are intoxicated, but it can also be used against someone who, say, just has bad balance.
Failing any of these tests can give officers probable cause for making a DWI arrest. The results of these tests may also come back to haunt you in the courtroom.
What Texas Law Enforcement Can Do After a Field Sobriety Test
Law enforcement officers can use the results of these tests as probable cause that you are intoxicated while driving. At this point, the officer has the ability to search your vehicle and make a DWI arrest, even without your consent.
Texas law mandates persons who have been arrested for DWI have an “implied consent” and are legally required to take a blood, breath, or urine test. The results of this test offer even more evidence against you in a DWI case. When you head to court to fight charges, you will have to fight all of this evidence, starting with the field sobriety test.
Unfortunately, field sobriety test evidence is tricky. While a Breathalyzer provides a quick and (comparatively) accurate look at the amount of alcohol or controlled substances in your breath, the results of HGN rely more on officer testimony. Unless your eyes are directly in front of the officer’s dashboard camera, there is no real evidence of the results besides officer testimony, and unless you have a strong lawyer fighting your DWI charges, an officer’s testimony will go far in court.
Here’s the good part: you have the right to refuse these tests, and you should. Don’t hand over criminalizing evidence to law enforcement if you don’t have to. DWI charges are costly, and convictions are even more of a burden.
What About “No Refusal” Weekends?
Texas law enforcement officers are not above scaring people into taking tests. They may even lie about the law in order to get your consent. “No refusal” weekends are a prime example of scare tactics that often trick drivers into consenting to tests that they do not have to take.
“No refusal” weekends are advertised by law enforcement as periods when judges are on call to offer a search warrant on the spot. These weekends are put in place to encourage people to just take the field sobriety tests, giving them little hope of any other option. However, just because a weekend has a special name does not mean your rights don’t stand.
If you are pulled over and told that it is a “no refusal” weekend, you still have the right to refuse a field sobriety test or a Breathalyzer. The officer will still need reasonable cause to believe that you have been drinking and driving.
Does your breath smell strongly of alcohol? Is there evidence of controlled substances in the car? Are you slurring your words or driving on the wrong side of the road?
Police will need an affirmative answer to any of these questions before they can get a search warrant. Without reasonable cause, you have the right to refuse any test or search.
Even if you have submitted to field sobriety tests and failed, you may still be able to fight your charges. Reach out to a Texas DWI lawyer for more information.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.