Traffic stops follow a familiar pattern when an officer suspects you of driving while intoxicated. First, the police will look for any obvious signs of alcohol use. This could include the smell of an alcohol beverage, drink containers in plain sight, or even an admission from you of consuming an alcoholic beverage. When the police believe you are under the influence of alcohol but lack the evidence to make an arrest, a common tool for obtaining probable cause is the use of field sobriety tests.
Field sobriety tests do not measure the alcohol in your bloodstream like a breath or blood test. Instead, they are a series of physical activities that supposedly subjective evidence of intoxication. While it is common knowledge that refusing a breath test can potentially have consequences against your driving privileges, is the same true for field sobriety tests?
Understanding Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are hardly tests in the truest sense. They are highly subjective, making it entirely subjective whether a person passes or fails. Because of this, these tests are regarded by many to be highly inaccurate. Sober people can—and do—fail the field sobriety tests due to their subjective nature and the demerit system in which police officers count “cues” or “clues” against the accused.
There are three different exercises that make up field sobriety tests: horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, and one-legged stand. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test involves an officer looking into your eyes while you follow their finger with your gaze.
The walk and turn and one-legged stand are aptly-named. The walk and turn involves walking a straight line, turning in place, and returning without stepping out of line. The one-legged stand requires you to balance on one leg without falling for a set period of time.
The Consequences of Refusing Field Sobriety Tests
When you refuse to submit to a blood or breath test during a DWI investigation, you face the potential for an automatic suspension of your driving privileges. The same is not true for field sobriety tests. Under the law, these tests are never mandatory, and you are under no obligation to perform them when asked.
That does not mean there are no consequences for refusing, however. In fact, the refusal to take the tests could be used as evidence of intoxication just like failing the test could be. The reality of the situation is that at this point you are likely to face arrest either way. By performing field sobriety tests that are designed for you to fail, you supply the state with ample evidence that you were intoxicated. While a jury could ultimately infer that you were intoxicated due to your refusal, an experienced attorney could work around that at trial.
At the end of the day, there is no benefit to taking these tests. If you “pass,” you could be arrested anyway. If you fail, it is simply more evidence the state can use against you. Refusing to take these tests is your fundamental Constitutional right, and it is a right worth exercising.
Discuss Your Rights with a Houston DWI Defense Attorney
Have you been charged with DWI in Houston? Attorney Doug Murphy has built a reputation for winning DWI cases throughout the Houston area and Texas. To discuss your legal rights and best practices following a DWI arrest, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.