Were You Asked To Perform Field Sobriety Tests?
Field sobriety tests are used throughout Texas to help police officers assess whether or not a driver is intoxicated. What’s important to remember, however, is that failure of these tests isn’t an automatic conviction when you have an experienced DUI lawyer in your corner.
Approved Field Sobriety Tests
One thing that most individuals don’t realize is that there are only three standardized field sobriety tests that are approved by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- The walk and turn (WAT) test: When cops ask a person to walk in a straight line, commonly seen on television shows
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: When a police officer asks a person to follow a light or other small object with his or her eyes without moving his or her head
- One-legged stand test: When the officer asks the person to stand on one leg and count to a specified number
An experienced DUI lawyer knows the nuances of all these tests and the methods that should be employed. Since NHTSA regulations only accept checks that are implemented correctly, your lawyer will thoroughly investigate how these tests were performed to determine whether evidence obtained from incorrectly administered field sobriety tests may be suppressed or dismissed altogether.
How Field Sobriety Tests Can Be Incorrectly Administered
There are numerous ways in which a field sobriety test can be incorrectly administered, and an experienced DUI lawyer will check for them all. For instance, an officer should not initiate a walk and turn test on anyone who is physically disabled or more than 50 pounds overweight. This is taught to police officers in training, so if they use this test to determine a person’s level of drunkenness, a DUI lawyer may be able to have this evidence suppressed or thrown out altogether.
The scenario mentioned above is only one example in which a knowledgeable DUI lawyer can be beneficial to combating evidence obtained through incorrect procedures. There are several other cases when field sobriety tests are misapplied or inappropriately used to determine whether a person is drunk or not.
A well-informed DUI lawyer will know how to investigate whether field sobriety tests were appropriately used, and if not, demonstrate their invalidity in court.
Blood Alcohol Level
A Determining Factor In DUI Cases
As is the case in other U.S. states, Texas DUI laws are based on a driver’s blood alcohol level at the time he or she is pulled over by law enforcement officers. Blood alcohol level is also referred to as blood alcohol concentration or BAC.
It is important to note that all drivers in Texas are legally required to submit to chemical testing if law enforcement makes the request. The amount of alcohol in the blood is most commonly measured using a Breathalyzer test in the field after a traffic stop. Additional testing of the driver’s blood and urine may also be performed at a later time.
While tests determining intoxication levels are more scientific than field sobriety tests, their results can also be questioned in DUI cases. An experienced DUI lawyer has insight into the means by which results from blood alcohol level tests may be challenged to contest a DUI.
Legal Limits For Blood Alcohol Level
In Texas, like all other states, a driver is considered intoxicated if his or her blood alcohol level is .08 or higher. This is not the only designation, however, for concentrations as they relate to DUI offenses. For example, additional rules apply to specific classes of drivers:
- Drivers who are under the age of 21. Individuals under the age of 21 may be charged with a DUI when registering a BAC as low as .02. This “zero tolerance” policy is in line with many states throughout the country. The intent of the very low threshold is to allow for DUI citation at the mere trace of alcohol in a person’s system.
- Commercial drivers. Truck drivers and other commercial transportation service providers may be charged with a DUI if they are determined to have a BAC exceeding .04 while working.
It is important to understand that drivers who are below the legal limit in a BAC test are not necessarily exempt from DUI charges. A person who blows a .06 in a Breathalyzer test, for example, may still be cited for a DUI based on a law enforcement officer’s observation of a motorist’s erratic driving. Additionally, anyone declining to participate in field sobriety or chemical tests can be cited for a less safe DUI.
Challenging The Results Of BAC Testing
Attorneys representing clients accused of driving under the influence routinely challenge BAC test results. In fact, this strategy can be among the most effective for mounting a successful DUI defense. It is common that tests are improperly administered or that defective testing equipment causes false readings.
If you have been charged with DUI on the basis of a BAC test, it is important to understand how the assessment may impact your prospects for fighting a DUI charge. An attorney can provide this information and work with you to develop a defense strategy that can prove effective given the circumstances of your case.
Invalid Field Sobriety Tests
Police officers in Texas often use several non-standardized field sobriety tests that are not approved by the NHTSA. Specific tests such as the finger-to-nose test, counting backward, tipping your head backward, counting the number of fingers that an officer holds up and reciting the alphabet backward are often used but are not approved. Furthermore, studies have shown that police officers can only accurately gauge a person’s intoxication level 50 percent of the time using these methods; this isn’t any better than just flipping a coin.