Criminal Defense in Orange County

Field Sobriety Test: Walk-and-Turn

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contends that three different field sobriety tests are to be considered "standardized tests" for the purposes of determining driver intoxication in a DUI case. These three tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn. The walk-and-turn test requires the suspect to perform a variety of physical tests in order to determine their stability. This test has eight clues of impairment.

The first two are relevant during the time that the suspect is listening to instructions. Officers are looking for evidence of whether or not the suspect can follow simple instructions while keeping his balance. If the suspect breaks away from the heel-toe position, this could indicate impairment. Additionally, the officer will see if the suspect starts walking before they are asked to begin. The other six clues involve the suspect's motor abilities with respect to walking and keeping balance.

If the suspect stops walking or misses a heel-toe connection, this could indicate an inability to perform the task. Improper turning, taking too many or too little steps and raising arms for balance are also evaluated as possible signs of impairment. If the suspect steps off the straight line, the officer will likely infer intoxication as well. In most jurisdictions, meeting two or more of the above clues during this field sobriety test classifies a suspect as above the legal limit.

Instructions for Completing the Test

Officers are required to offer the suspect a smooth, dry and non-slippery surface to perform the test. Special consideration must also be given to suspects who are over the age of 65, those with back, leg or inner ear problems and suspects wearing high heels or complicated footwear. Suspects should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes. Instructions must be communicated with clarity and officers are not permitted to purposely confuse or miscommunicate expectations.

Instructions for completion typically include:

  • Once the "straight line" is established along the side of the road, the officer should instruct the suspect to place his or her left foot on the line followed by the right foot directly in front of—and touching—the left toes. This is known as the heel-toe stance, and the officer should demonstrate this stance for the suspect.
  • The officer will tell the suspect to keep their arms at their side and to listen to all instructions before beginning the test. The officer should inquire as to whether the suspect understands all instructions to this point and should wait for an affirmative answer.
  • The officer should then instruct the suspect on the proper way to perform the heel-toe test. He should clearly articulate that the suspect must proceed forward on the straight line by placing the heel of one foot against the toes of the other foot. Once the ninth step is taken, the suspect must leave the front foot on the line and turn 180 degrees to perform the test again.
  • The suspect must then take another nine heel-to-toe steps down the straight line. They must keep his gaze averted onto his feet and count each step out loud. The suspect should also be instructed that once he or she starts walking, they cannot stop until the test is complete.
  • Finally, the officer must ask again if the suspect understands all the instructions and must wait for an affirmative answer before instructing the suspect to begin.

While these tests may seem straightforward, they are not always so clear-cut as proof that you were intoxicated. There are regulations in place that dictate how they must be administered and interpreted, and a host of unrelated factors can result in a person failing a test. An Orange County DUI attorney can help you challenge the validity of a field sobriety test if it was administered improperly.

How Your Lawyer Can Contest This Evidence

If the officers allege that you were intoxicated because you "failed" the walk the line test, your lawyer may try to raise some reasonable doubt about the issue. They might do this by asking the officer on cross-examination exactly how he or she gave instructions during the test. They might establish that the officer instructed you to put your feet on the line and your arms by your side, and you kept this position until he told you to begin. They might then ask how long the officer kept you in that position.

If the officer gives a short amount of time, such as 5 to 10 seconds, this implies that they only had that amount of time to give instructions. A short time in that stance indicates that the instructions were given very briefly. Our firm is well-aware of the possible pitfalls of the walk-and-turn test and will assuredly raise all defenses on your behalf. If you have questions about challenging a field sobriety test, contact a criminal lawyer from The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs for a free consultation.

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