In this second post regarding the DWI arrest of Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jay Ratliff, we describe in greater detail the field sobriety test at issue.
As Texas readers recall, the responding officer arrived at the scene due to the nighttime motor vehicle collision, and his notes indicate that Ratliff did not show any outward signs of intoxication, nor was he slurring his words. An initial interview confirmed those observations.
Despite the apparent lack of observable evidence, the officer nevertheless questioned Ratliff a second time, and then had him perform a field sobriety test involving involuntary horizontal and vertical eye movements, a walk and turn, as well as one-leg balancing. Each test contains a number of clues which indicate possible intoxication. If a testing officer observes enough clues on a particular test, called the decision point, the test taker is considered to have failed.
In each of the three tests, the officer claims that Ratliff exceeded the allowable number of clues. In the eye movements test, called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the officer claims he observed six clues toward intoxication. That’s two more than the decision point for that test. In the walk and turn test, which has a decision point of two clues, the officer claims Ratliff started too soon, missed his heel-to-toe motion, and turned improperly.
The one legged stand also has a decision point of two clues, the officer claims Ratliff swayed, had to use his arms to balance, and had to put his foot down.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies, a person who fails the allowable decision points on all three tests most likely has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater.
Yet many experienced criminal defense and DWI attorneys assert that field sobriety tests are highly subjective, and consequently unreliable. For example, two observers might score the same test taker differently. In addition, many believe that the stress of being questioned by a police officer — after being stopped and instructed to exit one’s motor vehicle — can produce anxiety in test takers and render them unable to perform well. That anxiety may be all the more elevated when a driver has just survived a traffic accident, as in this case.
After Ratliff eventually failed a field sobriety test and declined to submit to a Breathalyzer test, he was arrested for DWI and taken to the local jail for booking. The officer then secured a warrant and took Ratliff’s blood. The results of that DWI blood test take about ten days. In the meantime, Ratliff was released on bond and is awaiting trial.