DWI Field Sobriety Tests

Oh, the Field Sobriety Tests. Or, the “FST’s” as the cops like to say. Three or four little tests that can magically tell if a person is drunk or not. Are they effective? Well, if your definition of effective is to get people arrested for DWIs then, yes it’s very effective.


What should I know about FSTs?


First off, if I was ever asked to perform a Field Sobriety Test, I would politely refuse. As you will see below, sober people can (and sometimes do) perform poorly on FSTs. The officer may try to convince you that you have to perform the FST’s, but that is not true. Now, you may still be arrested for DWI, but chances are, you would be arrested no matter what you do.


Most people think that they are trying to pass of fail a field sobriety test, but that’s not the cases. Officers will look for “clues” that a person is intoxicated. The video of the tests will often be one of the strongest pieces of evidence at trial. This can be whether the person is actually intoxicated or not. You can deny them this video by politely refusing to perform. You will probably still be arrested, but you will be better equipped to fight the case over the long-haul.


Common Tests


Most everyone has seen the feld sobriety tests on tv or in the movies. There are several tests that Austin PD uses as part of it’s DWI investigation.


  • The officer will ask you to follow something like a pen with your eyes. The officer is looking for nystagmus, which is a jerking motion of your pupils. This is involuntary so there’s no way to frce your eyes not to exhibit nystagmus. Some people have a medical condition that causes nystagmus all the time.
  • Walk & Turn. Walk on a straight line, usually an imaginary line touching heel to toe. The officer will give you a specific number of steps and a specific method for turning. If you miss out on one of these because you didn’t hear the officer correctly, or you’re just stressed out on the side of the road, the officer will mark them as “clues” to your intoxication
  • One leg stand. As it sounds, the officer will ask you to stand on one leg for 30 seconds. If you so much as sway your arms (which I do every time I try this test sober), that’s a clue.
  • Time estimation test. Although not as common, the officer may ask you to tilt your head back, close your eyes, and estimate 30 seconds. Swaying or estimating the wrong amount of seconds will be another clue.



It is quite possible to feel like you are doing well on these tests while the officer is chalking up clues left and right. He is not there to see things your way; he’s there to try to arrest you for a DWI. Do not give the police fodder for a DWI trial. Whether you have had one drink or 10, or are stone cold sober, the best idea is usually to refuse the tests. If you have been charged with a DWI in Travis, Williamson, or surrounding counties, call Rob Chesnutt at 512-677-5003.




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