Field Sobriety Tests

A Few Words About Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

No one should ever take a Standardized Field Sobriety Test.  Ever. If you are being asked to perform these pseudo-scientific exercises, the only real outcome is your arrest.  Refusing to perform them is also going to result in your arrest, but you have think beyond the immediate situation in which you find yourself.  Think of it this way: would you rather willingly perform tests that are recorded by the police officer as part of visually establishing your guilt, or would you rather prevent the government from having such compelling pieces of evidence?

Unfortunately, humans can be an overly helpful species, even when it works against their own self-interests.  And police officers know that.  That’s why they ask people who are suspected of driving while intoxicated if they “wouldn’t mind” doing a “few exercises,” to see if they’re “fit to drive.”  Officers know that nine times out of ten, the answer is probably going to be “yes,” even when it should be “no,” because the subject wants to show the officer that he can do the tests. He wants to demonstrate that he isn’t being unsafe.

The problem with this decision, in addition to providing valuable evidence to law enforcement, is that the SFSTs aren’t solely about performance.  They’re about paying attention. And failing to pay attention–or getting so nervous that you forget what you’re being told–counts against you just as much as falling flat on your face. One certainly looks worse than the other, but on the paperwork the officer fills out, they’re both a check mark in a box.

Test subjects aren’t told this, of course–they’re made to feel that the most important thing is the demonstration of sobriety. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched DWI stop videos where an otherwise well-performing individual gets penalized for doing too much, for showing off just how much his balance is unaffected.  When the directions for the walk and turn say to get to “Nine,” and then take a series of steps to turn around, the subject who spins around military-style or ballerina-style will have the box labeled “improper turn” checked off.  Likewise, the subject who keeps taking steps after he reaches the count of nine–as if to demonstrate that a drunk person wouldn’t be able to do that–will have the box labeled “wrong number of steps” checked off.

Is it fair that suspects are not informed that the SFSTs are just as much about paying attention to instructions as they are about performance?  Not at all. And that’s why no one should agree to do them, no matter how hard it is to say “No.”

If you have been arrested for DWI in Houston or other parts of Texas, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest because there are very important deadlines that must be met.  The Choate Firm will be happy to schedule an appointment with you to discuss all your options.