Criminal Defense in Orange County

The Reliability of the One-Leg-Stand Test

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.