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Can Police Use Field Sobriety Tests in a Boating While Intoxicated Investigation?

 Posted on May 05, 2020 in Uncategorized

For many people, boating and alcohol go hand in hand. While arrests for boating while intoxicated (BWI) are relatively uncommon, it is worth remembering that a conviction could have significant consequences. Like with a drunken driving charge, it is possible to defeat a BWI case at trial.

There are some important differences between these cases and standard DWI arrests since this offense occurs on the water. This is due in part to the challenges law enforcement face when attempting to competently investigate BWI cases. These challenges are highlighted by the limited use of field sobriety tests in these cases.

Law enforcement has access to a series of seated field sobriety tests that allegedly work floating on a lake. That said, these tests face the same reliability issues that standard field sobriety tests have.

Seated Field Sobriety Tests on Water

A limited number of studies have reviewed sobriety exercises that are used by law enforcement while floating. The accuracy of these seated float sobriety tests is questionable at best. These tests include the "palm pat" exercise and fists on the chest exercise that is downright silly.

The palm pat exercise requires a person to extend their hand in front of their body palm up. The subject then places their other hand palm down on the first hand. The exercise requires that person to then pat the top hand on the bottom, alternating between the palm and back of their top hand.

Other tests include a horizontal gaze nystagmus test and an exercise where the subject places their finger to their nose. The issue with these tests is that the motion of the boat can greatly impact the outcome of the test.

Field Sobriety Tests on Land

In some cases, an officer will require a person to return to land and perform standardized field sobriety tests there. While this can be used as evidence of intoxication at trial, this process is often time-consuming and can delay the eventual breath or blood test that is likely to follow.

These tests are not intended to be used on the water. While some officers will attempt to use the horizontal gaze nystagmus test while floating on water, the movement of the boat is likely to skew the results. Any attempt to use these tests while floating on water provides a big target for your attorney to seize on.

The Value of Experienced DWI Defense Counsel in Houston TX

When it comes to the use of field sobriety tests as evidence of intoxication at trial, it is vital that the officer administered these tests properly. If they failed to follow the appropriate steps or conducted the test in an environment that was not suitable, the results of the test will not be accurate.

A Board Certified expert in DWI defense can show a jury during the course of your BWI trial that the officers failed to properly administer these tests. This is especially true if the officers attempted to use the standard field sobriety tests while still on the water. These mistakes not only invalidate the results of a field sobriety test, but they also call into question whether you were intoxicated. Let your Houston DWI defense counsel review the factors of your arrest to advise you on your best defense.

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