The one-leg stand test is one of three tests that the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deems to be accurate in evaluating
driver impairment. The one-leg stand test evaluates four clues of impairment. The suspect
is instructed to balance on one foot while holding the other in the air
for an extended period of time. While the suspect is performing the test,
the officer will be looking to see if the suspect sways, uses their arms
to balance, hops around to keep from falling or puts their elevated foot
down on the ground. While these clues could indicate impairment, they
could just as easily be attributed to a variety of other environmental
and physical causes.
Nonetheless, a suspect who commits two or more of these acts during the
one-leg stand test is considered to have a 65% chance of being under the
influence and above the legal limit to drive. There are many reasons why
a suspect may have trouble balancing on one leg. First, most
field sobriety tests take place on the side of busy roadways. Shoulders are often covered in
gravel, debris or grass and are hardly ever smooth, flat or conducive
to extensive balancing tests. In addition, suspects over the age of 65
or those with back, inner ear or leg disabilities are at a significant
disadvantage. Suspects with flimsy shoes or high heels may also have a
difficult time balancing on one foot.
The Steps Involved in Administering the Test
As an Orange County DUI lawyer, part of my job is to investigate whether
or not law enforcement followed protocol with respect to the field sobriety
tests that were administered and argue that factors other than intoxication
could be to blame for your inability to perform the test perfectly. The
following procedural steps must be followed by an officer performing the
one-leg test to ensure that the suspect's rights are respected and
that they fully understand what is being asked.
- The test begins as the suspect is instructed to stand with feet their together
and arms at their side. The suspect is to remain in that position until
they are told to begin. The evaluator will be monitoring the suspect's
ability to follow directions in addition to his gross motor skills.
- They must instruct the suspect that once the officer says "begin,"
the suspect is to raise his leg in a stiff-leg manner approximately six
inches from the ground with the toe pointed forward such that the bottom
of the foot is parallel with the ground. The officer should then demonstrate
this position and inquire if the suspect understands the instructions.
- The suspect is to stare at his elevated foot while counting "one thousand
one, one thousand two, etc." The suspect should continue to count
until told to stop.
- Lastly, before telling the suspect to begin, the officer should ensure
that the suspect understands the instructions and wait for him to respond
in the affirmative.
Under no circumstances should the test last longer than 30 seconds. It
is difficult for almost anyone, under the influence or not, to hold their
leg in a stiff-leg position for half a minute. The officer should be keeping
the official time and should instruct the suspect to stop even if they
have not counted to 30 yet. Like all field sobriety tests, the one-leg-stand
is only reliable if it administered according to protocol. However, officers
frequently make mistakes when administering this test.
Challenging the Reliability of the One-Leg Stand
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has documented some
of the most common mistakes that officers make when administering the
one-leg stand – including asking the suspect to count silently.
Officers have also been found to be wildly inconsistent in their administration
of the test. Some officers ask the defendant to hold their foot out until
prompted to put it down and others ask the defendant to rest his foot
immediately after finishing. Some officers ask the defendant to keep their
hands at their side and others want the defendant's hands parallel
to his shoulders.
Because of these inconsistencies, challenging the results of a one-leg-stand
test is entirely possible. During cross examination, your Orange County
DUI defense attorney may ask if they made any of those common mistakes
(without revealing that they are mistakes, of course). If the officer
confirms he made a mistake known to compromise test results, your lawyer
can then have the officer read the procedures for the test as dictated
by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This could easily
result in the test results being discredited in the eyes of the jury.
If you were recently arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence,
you need an attorney with a thorough understanding of these tests, what
they entail and how they are properly administered. There are times when
law enforcement will try to circumvent proper protocol by leaving out
important instructions or failing to inform the suspect of their rights.
I routinely advocate on behalf of clients who have been arrested for DUI
and have successfully contested the validity of field sobriety tests.
Contact The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs today to
set up a free consultation.