Criminal Law

Field Sobriety Test: Walk and Turn

The second most performed field sobriety test in a DWI investigation is the Walk and Turn.  To fully understand this field sobriety test, you must become familiar with the phases and scoring of the test.  After you are acquainted with proper administration, you can then point to the issues which may arise during the test.

Instructions for the walk and turn: the suspect will be told to place their left foot on what may be a real or an imaginary line. Then the suspect is told to place their right foot on the line in front of their left foot while placing their hands by their side. The suspect is instructed to remain in this position until instructed to start the test.

The Walk and turn is a divided attention test.  It will usually be the second test administered by the officer, after the HGN. According to NHTSA, the field sobriety test must be performed “in strict compliance with the directives issued.” If performed correctly, the walk and turn is said to be 68% accurate at detecting a BAC of greater than or equal to 0.10.  The test is divided into two stages.

The first stage is the instruction stage. This stage divides the persons attention by making them both balance and process information given to them by the officer. The person must remain in the instructional stage until told to begin the test.

The second stage is the actual walking stage.  At this stage, the person must divide their attention by controlling their muscles, balancing correctly and remembering exactly how they were instructed to perform the test.  During this stage, the person will have to take a series of 9 heel to toe steps and then make a turn in a very specific way which is described by the officer during the instructional phase. The person will then have to take another series of nine steps back to where the test was started.

To get an accurate field sobriety test, the officer is taught to administer the test on a “reasonably dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface.” The site of the test should be large enough to accommodate the entire 9 step test.

During the test, the officer will be looking for a number of clues.  The clues as provided by NHTSA are:

  1. Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
  2. Starts too soon
  3. Stops while walking
  4. Does not touch heel to toe
  5. Steps off the line
  6. Uses arms to balance
  7. Improper turn
  8. Incorrect number of steps

If the person taking the test shows 2 or more clues, NHTSA says this is an indication of a BAC at or above 0.08.

Issues with the walk and turn: this is a test which requires a person to due multiple different actions at once. You must first maintain your balance while in the instructional phase of having your feet heal to toe, one in front of the other. While you are balancing during this phase, the officer will be talking to you and giving you a demonstration on how to complete the test (this is part of the divided attention aspect of the test).  This test has many variables, such as the surface on which it is performed, the shoes the subject is wearing, the physical condition of the subject, and countless other factors that play into the actual reliability of the test.  This test is also not to be used on anyone over the age of 65 years old. The walk and turn test has many parts, and thus it has many ways to be attacked. A knowledgeable DWI attorney will be able to spot the mistakes made and use them to their clients advantage. 

We happen to know good DWI attorneys.

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