Why Field Sobriety Tests Are Garbage

Stephen H.: Hello, I’m Stephen Hamilton, board certified criminal defense attorney practicing in Lubbock, Texas in the South Plains. And today’s video clip on DWI is, what are some of the concerns of these field sobriety tests that you took or that your loved one took when he was arrested for a DWI?

Stephen H.: Field sobriety tests basically are three things that you will see that the officer does and they call them standardized field sobriety tests. A horizontal gaze nystagmus or what we call the HGN, and that’s basically where the officer is just checking your eye and looking for a twitch. A walk and turn test where they give you a series of instructions, “Put your hands down by your side, put your left foot on the line, your right foot in front of it, and remain in that position until I tell you to begin.” And then they explain how they want you to do this heel to toe test, how to make a special turn. And then the last one, the one leg stand again, hands down by your side, raise your foot six inches off the ground, hold it there.

Stephen H.: If you did those tests and you are arrested, there are some concerns of those tests. In other words, the first thing is what do they really mean? Most of the time when you’re arrested on the side of the road under Texas law, they’re arresting you because they’re saying you’re intoxicated. That definition on the side of the road, now think about it, they don’t have a breath tester out there, a legal breath tester, they didn’t give you an Intoxilyzer or a blood test sample.

Stephen H.: So they’re talking about that you’ve lost the normal use of your mental or physical faculty and they’re using these three field sobriety tests to say that that’s correct. The problem is there’s no validation for that, there is no study, there is no peer review that says that that’s true. In fact, there’s not a single bit of documentation in the scientific community that says that if I have a twitching of the eye, I have nystagmus, this twitching of the eye, that I’ve lost the normal use of my mental or physical faculty, same thing with the walk and turn, and the one leg stand. So that’s one of the concerns that we have. If you’re going to say that a test main something, then you got to be able to back it up. You got to show the data and it doesn’t exist and that’s one of the things that we’re going to look at, I’m going to look at when you come in to see me, what did you do on the field sobriety test?

Stephen H.: The other issues are, there are reasons that people don’t look good on balance and dexterity tests that have absolutely nothing to do with intoxication. I mean, think about it, you’re doing a balance and dexterity test, a walk and turn, a one leg stand, typically it’s late at night or early in the morning, it’s dark outside, it may be cold, it could be windy. I’ve seen people do field sobriety test even in the snow for heaven sakes. You’re nervous, you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, if I’m not perfect on this thing, I’m going to jail. The officer thinks that I’ve been drinking, so I’ve got to try to prove to him that I’m okay.” Now those things can affect your mental faculties and how it is that you’re doing those tests. There are a lot of other things that will affect it, certainly physical conditions, if you have bad knees, or bad backs, or ankles, if you have diabetes, there are a lot of things that we need to look at.

Stephen H.: One of the things that I do when you come in the office is I want to talk to you about your medical conditions. We need to know immediately do we need to be looking at sending you to a doctor? Do we need to be looking at getting medical reports, copies of issues that you’ve had in the past? Do we want to send you for an MRI? All those things we’ve got to discuss and we’ve got to look at your case specific. What we do is not cookie cutter law, it’s not what works for one person works for somebody else. And I don’t really know what might help you until you pick up that phone, you call me, you come in and see me. We’d be glad to visit with you, looking forward to talking to you. My name is Stephen Hamilton. My phone number is 806-794-0394 pick up the phone, call me today and have a great day. Thank you.

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