Several years back I took the same class that police officers take to become certified to administer the Field Sobriety Tests. It’s not an impressive feat; I just did it to learn more about DWI defense.

The class was taught by Troy Walden and Lance Platt, two ex-police officers who, then and now, specialize in helping lawyers defend DWIs in Texas. It used the same manuals, and they themselves were certified Instructors, so it was pretty much identical in every aspect. (I’m tempted to say the students probably paid more attention than some officers do, but I can’t scientifically prove it.)


The three day class even included the part where we the students administer tests to some subjects before and after drinking. That’s right. They bring them in with nothing to drink. All subjects get the HGN, Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand. Then, while the students go on to some other rigorous examination of FSTs, the subjects sit at a bar and get dosed with alcohol.


In other words, someone sits there and buys them drinks. Then they come back and do the tests all over again.


I was reminded of this experience when my longtime friend and office mate, as well as fellow Austin DWI lawyer Lance Stott wrote this post about his experience as a guinea pig:


My role, difficult as it was, was to be a test subject, get drunk, and then take the tests again.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.


I’m a little bit clumsy by nature.  I didn’t listen to the instructions all that well, and performing the tests in front a group of people gave me a case of nervers.  Long story short: I bombed.


I took the wrong number of steps, started before I was instructed to, did the turn improperly, and I think I stepped off the line, as well.  There are 8 clues on the walk and turn, and I think I got them all.


I was there. On the second day of class they had asked if any of us could bring in our friends to be subjects, so I asked Lance if he wanted to come, and he agreed. So I designated-ly drove him to and from the class. (Another lawyer brought a friend from one of Austin’s local “bars”; she scored terribly on the tests before and after.)


I don’t remember whether he got all eight clues, but I do remember he did terribly on the first – i.e. sober – attempt. I specifically remember him getting the number of steps wrong, even though I knew he knew it’s called the nine step walk and turn.


As an aside, I also remember that someone, not Lance, had natural nystagmus in one eye. Everyone ooohed and aaaahed, as that poor guy got HGN’d to within an inch of his life. Everyone had to see it.


Police officers, when asked about natural nystagmus, will pooh pooh it in that tone of voice that let’s you know only about ten people on earth probably have natural nystagmus, and all of them know it and will announce that before they have the HGN administered to them. Apparently one of the ten just randomly made it into our class. And, no, he had no idea he had visible nystagmus at all times in one eye. But I digress.


Back to Stott. How did he do after the trip to the bar?


The second time around, I did much better. I began when I was supposed to.  I took the right number of steps.  I touched heel to toe, and I even did the turn more or less the way you’re supposed to.  (By the way, nobody ever does the turn right.)


What happened?  Well, after my trip to the bar, I wasn’t the least bit nervous anymore.  More importantly, this was my second time around.  I’d had a bit of practice, and this time I knew what they were looking for.


Right again. That’s exactly how it happened. I was the witness. I don’t remember the second time around HGN results for him, but other than that, I think he got zero out of eight clues on the Walk and Turn, and either zero or one clue – a passing score – on the One Leg Stand after being dosed with alcohol.


Go figure.