What Does the DWI “eye test” Mean?
Every year more than 1 million people in the United States are arrested for DWI or DUI. In most of these incidents, the arresting officers ask suspected DWI drivers to participate in a test that involves following a pen, a light or the officer’s finger with their eyes. Officers call this test the HGN.
The HGN test has been in use to make DWI arrests in the U.S. since the 1970s. Virtually every DWI arrest in Texas, whether in Houston, Harris County or elsewhere, will involve the police using this test. The letters stand for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus.
Most drivers are puzzled at why police have them look back and forth, over and over again for what seems like an eternity. Scared to blink or look away from the officer’s movements, drivers must endure this torturous exercise until the officer gives them permission to stop staring. Officers do not tell the driver what they are looking for, and the officers rarely tell the driver if they saw what they were looking for. In most cases the driver ends up being arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).
The best DWI lawyers know that officers are told to look for jerking movements in the eyes. Officers believe that these jerking movements mean the driver may be intoxicated. Some officers come to court and say the test tells them a person “is” intoxicated. DWI lawyers in Houston or from elsewhere who know about the truth behind this test, know that officers are not given accurate information about this eye test.
What does science say about the eye test?
In spite of the widespread use of the HGN in test in courts across the U.S., there is not a single scientific study that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal that demonstrates a reliable relationship between the eye test and intoxication. The criteria used to score the test originated from the contractors being paid by the government, none of which were ophthalmologists, physicians of any kind or toxicologists.
The most recent experiments conducted by law enforcement personnel demonstrate that the criteria officers are trained to use will result in the wrongful opinion of intoxication on almost 70 percent of people who are not intoxicated (as confirmed by blood test results). The disturbing truth is that the results of these government experiments are concealed from officers in their DWI training. Even if a well-intentioned officer wanted to tell the truth about the HGN, they do not know the truth. Under Texas DWI laws, a person arrested for DWI would most likely have to spend their own money to hire a toxicologist or other expert to testify to a jury about the facts behind the government’s own research. Of course, an expert would only be useful in the hands of one of the best DWI lawyers in Houston.
In addition to the scientific problems with the HGN criteria, research shows that very few officers apply the HGN technique properly as they were trained. DWI lawyers in Houston and across the country uniformly report that in cases when officers administer the HGN test on the in-car video, most videos prove the officer did not apply the test as they were taught. These failures to follow training put drivers at an even higher risk of being wrongfully arrested for DWI.
Should I Participate in the eye test?
Texas law does not require cooperation with the HGN test. Refusal to fall into this trap has no effect on your license to drive. Negative results on the test could lead to the release of a driver though. The most at risk people for a wrongful result on the HGN test are people who have had something to drink, but they are under the legal limit. Few people will be wrongfully implicated if they are completely free of any alcohol or medications. People who have been drinking responsibly or those who have taken certain medications responsibly could however end up wrongfully going to jail for DWI based in part on what an officer sees during an HGN test.