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What are Texas cops looking for in field sobriety tests?

Remember when you were in school and your teacher would "surprise" the class with pop quizzes? Field sobriety tests can be like that, except failing the test could mean some time in jail.

Make no mistake: you have a right to refuse Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) if a police officer stops you in Texas. Cops use SFSTs to determine if there is probable cause to arrest you, and these tests are used primarily to create or obtain evidence against drivers. Field sobriety tests are also subjective, meaning the officer's perception of whether you're sober or not factors largely in whether or not you'll be arrested.

Cops routinely use these three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

A police officer might arrest you if you fail (or seem to fail) any one of these SFSTs:

  • Walk-and-turn: This test is all about balance and agility. An officer considering whether or not to arrest you for DUI may ask you to walk a straight line with your arms held out at shoulder length on each side. You can't simply walk with a normal stride either, as you must walk with the heel of one foot at the tip of the toes on the other. Once you reach the end of the designated line, the officer may instruct you to turn around and repeat the whole exercise in the other direction. Really, this test can be tricky for anybody, sober or not.
  • One-leg stance: If you're a clumsy type of person, standing on one leg may prove quite challenging, even when you're sober. This field sobriety test may not be very reliable, but police officers still use it. While you're standing on one leg, the officer will also likely ask you to count out loud or say your ABCs backward. If you sway, can't count correctly or hop around to catch your balance, your next road trip might be straight to jail.  
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus: This test measures your eyeball movements when a police officer asks you to follow an object using only your eyes, not your head. The officer may hold up a finger or a pen, then move the object from side to side or up and down, all the while checking to see if your eyeballs jerk sooner than expected on average for peripheral gaze. Intoxicated people's eyes tend to move erratically before they've reached their maximum gaze points. 

Where to turn for support 

The penalties for a DWI conviction are harsh in Texas, but you have a right to defend against the charge. You also don't have to do that alone. Talk to an experienced DWI defense lawyer soon as possible after a police officer pulls you over. The sooner a defense attorney can get involved in your case, the sooner steps can be taken to protect your rights and interests.

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