Why is Dallas PD suspending Field Sobriety Test Training?

For the moment Dallas Police Chief David Brown is suspending the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (STFT) classes of all new recruits. This means that new recruits won’t be learning how to administer the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk & Turn, and One-Leg Stand Test. Before discussing why Dallas PD is choosing to suspend these classes let’s discuss what these tests are and how they work.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (or HGN)

This is a test I’m sure many of you have seen on TV or in person. It typically involves the officer holding a pen with a light at the tip and moving it horizontally in front of the subject’s eyes. The officer then asks the subject to follow the pen or “stimulus,” which can also be his or her finger in some cases, with only their eyes. In other words, the subject’s head is supposed to stay still while he follows the stimulus with his only his eyes. Officers are looking for nystagmus or the involuntary jerking of the eye. A simple analogy is to think of a marble rolling over sandpaper as opposed to glass. The choppy movement over the sandpaper is analogous to nystagmus in the eyes. Nystagmus is recognized in the scientific community as an indicator of intoxication.

During this test officers are looking for three clues: (1) lack of smooth pursuit, (2) clear and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation, and (3) onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees. I won’t get too detailed into the science behind the test, but the bottom line is this: if during this test the officers see jerky movements in the eyes, you’re showing clues of intoxication and probably failing the test.

Walk & Turn

The Walk & Turn is probable the most recognizable test. You take 9 heel-to-toe steps along a real or imaginary line, turn in a prescribed format, then take 9 steps back. Officers are looking for clues such as stepping off the line, not stepping heel to toe, not taking the correct number of steps, etc. As you can imagine, intoxicated people generally have problems with balance and coordination challenges of this test.

One-Leg Stand (OLS)

This test is probably the simplest of the tests. An officer asks you to raise a foot or your choice about 6 inches above the ground. You then have to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Officers are looking for clues such as putting your foot down, using your arms for balance, etc.

Back to Dallas PD. Dallas PD has suspended these classes while they conduct a national review to determine if these classes are up to national guidelines. This announcement came as Dallas PD was once again accused of lowing their hiring criteria. According to an article by the Dallas Morning News there are allegations that some recruits were able to repeats the tests until they passed, which is contrary to the Department’s policies.

What this story should tell you is that you can’t just assume that the cop who administers a Standardized Field Sobriety Test knows what he or she is doing. Officers can administer the test incorrectly or interpret the results incorrectly. This is one of the biggest reasons why you need a DWI attorney, not just a criminal defense attorney, if you are charged with a DWI. Both Doug and Ashley at The WIlder Firm are SFST certified meaning they received the same training as police officers, or at least the training the officers were supposed to receive. A critical part of your DWI defense will be analyzing the in-car police video to make sure these STFTs were done correctly. If you have concerned about the testing a police officer put you through the give us a call today at (214) 855-7737. Put The Wilder Firm in your corner!

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