What is the Walk-and-Turn Test?
The walk-and-turn 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?
At the beginning of the walk-and-turn test, the officer is supposed to provide clear instructions and demonstrate the test before you begin.
The test itself involves walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, for approximately nine steps with your arms at your side. Then, at the conclusion of the nine steps, you turn around and walk back to the starting point in the same heel-to-toe manner.
The NHTSA requires certain conditions in order for the test to be performed properly.
- A designated straight line;
- A reasonably dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface;
- Adequate room for nine steps; and
- An option to remove shoes with heels two inches high.
How is the Test Evaluated?
The purpose of field sobriety tests is to identify clues that allegedly indicate impairment. The walk-and-turn test identifies eight possible clues:
- Lack of balance while following instructions;
- Beginning before instructed to begin;
- Failing to touch your heel to your toe while walking;
- Stepping off of the straight line;
- Stopping while walking;
- Raising or moving arms to maintain balance;
- Making an improper turn;
- Taking more or fewer than nine steps.
Missing or demonstrating two or more clues is supposed to indicate that your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is likely over 0.08. However, this field sobriety test, like others, is vulnerable to problems that can make the results unreliable.
Challenging the Walk-and-Turn Test
Problems often involve how the test is administered, pre-existing physical or mental conditions, and unsatisfactory environmental conditions.
Research by the NHTSA has shown this test is not suitable for anyone who:
- is over the age of 65
- has back or leg problems
- has middle ear problems
But other health issues, whether physical or mental, can also negatively affect a person's performance. Anxiety is a serious health condition. Sufferers of anxiety can experience an anxiety attack from the traffic stop alone, not to mention being asked to perform a test such as this.
The NHTSA requires a certain environment for this test to be properly performed. Unfortunately, you do not get to choose where you are pulled over for a traffic stop. There is no guarantee the ground will be level and non-slippery or that enough room will be available to safely complete the test.
Further, other environmental conditions can cause distractions and disruptions, like:
- loud, heavy traffic
- weather conditions (rain, snow, cold, heat)
- darkness or glaring sun, making it difficult to see
Law enforcement officers are human, and they make mistakes. They may not provide proper instructions or may interpret the test improperly. For example, an officer may count a person's slow walk as a clue for stopping while walking. Slow walking, however, is specifically identified by NHTSA as not stopping, but it can be hard to determine what's slow and what's stopping. It all depends on the point of view or interpretation of the officer. 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.