What is the One-Leg Stand Test?
The one-leg stand test is a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) used by law enforcement to determine if a driver is operating a vehicle while impaired. This test is one of three SFSTs recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As a standardized test, the results can be used as evidence in court against you, if the test is adminstered properly.
The test must be administered in accordance with specific rules. Law enforcement officers are trained on how to administer the test during DWI investigations, but that does not mean they always do so properly.
How is the Test Administered?
The one-leg stand test requires the individual to stand on one foot with the other foot elevated approximately six inches from the ground. While maintaining balance, the individual must count aloud until the law enforcement officer orders the individual to stop and put their foot down (typically 30 seconds).
The individual must also keep his or her eyes on the elevated foot while counting and maintaining balance.
How is the Test Measured?
The one-leg stand test is designed to estimate impairment by identifying clues. There are four clues an officer looks for while you stand with one leg up, counting out loud.
- Swaying back and forth or side to side while balancing. If you sway, it should be no more than one inch off center. If you cannot maintain your balance, you have demonstrated this clue.
- Raising arms for balance. You should not need to raise your arms more than six inches from your side. If you cannot maintain your balance, you have demonstrated this clue.
- Hopping but keeping your balance. You should not move the foot you are balancing on from the ground to perform a “hop.” If you cannot maintain your balance, you have demonstrated this clue.
- Putting a foot down. The officer will note how many times you let your foot drop to the ground while counting and not yet being told to stop. If you drop your elevated foot three or more times within the 30-second period, you have demonstrated this clue.
If you demonstrate two clues, this allegedly indicates your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is greater than 0.08 percent. This can support an officer's determination of probable cause to arrest you for DWI.
Challenging the One-Leg Stand Test
If you have ever been pulled over by a law enforcement officer, even for a simple traffic violation, you know it can make you nervous. A nervous state, however, is not your friend if that traffic stop turns into a DWI investigation, and you are asked to perform a "one-leg-stand" test. Being nervous alone could cause you to fail, and failure of this field sobriety test can be, in some jurisdictions, the basis for probable cause to arrest you for DWI. Although the one-leg stand test is a commonly used field sobriety test, it is fraught with problems, making it unreliable and vulnerable to challenges in court.
Environmental factors could distract or otherwise disrupt a test. Environmental factors include things like:
- Noise made by heavy traffic
- Road conditions, like gravel or uneven roads
- Weather conditions, like rain, fog, snow, freezing temperatures
- Time of day, like nighttime when it's hard to see due to darkness or daytime when the sun is glaring in your eyes
These conditions are enough to distract any person, but having to perform this type test while any of these conditions exist can lead to misguided or inaccurate results.
Health and Medical Conditions
In some cases, a person may have a health or medical condition that makes it hard to perform the test. These health conditions can be physical, mental, or emotional. A person with physical impairments like hearing loss or foot injuries should not perform this test. It is also recommended that people over 65 years of age should not perform this test. As for mental and emotional problems, a common condition is anxiety – anxiety can greatly impact a person's performance on this test.
Additionally, the act of standing on one foot is unnatural. Poor performance could simply be the result of being unable to perform an unnatural task.
Law enforcement officers are human, and they make mistakes. Field sobriety tests should be administered properly. The instructions are strict and very technical. An error on the officer's part can lead to exclusion of certain evidence against you.
Can I beat a DWI charge in North Carolina?
Like any other traffic or criminal offense, it is possible to beat a DWI charge. However, it is not an easy task. It requires a thorough understanding of the law and a thorough understanding of detection techniques, field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests. Understanding the latter tests is critical to identifying errors (technical or human-made errors) to challenge the reliability of test results.
Aside from errors or unreliable test results, an alleged DWI offender may have had their constitutional rights violated. This happens more often than you might imagine. A violation can lead to the inadmissibility of some or all evidence. Without sufficient evidence, the case may be dismissed, or a not guilty verdict may be achieved.
If you plan to fight your DWI charge, it is in your best interest to have an attorney represent you. The law is very complex. The evidence can be highly technical and scientific. Law enforcement and other expert testimony can be damaging. All these things can lead to a conviction, unless you have the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully challenge them in court.
Attorney Steven N. Long knows the law. His vast prior experience and training in the technical, scientific make-up of field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests make him uniquely qualified to best represent you in a DWI charge.