The Administration of Field Sobriety Tests

Walk & Turn

Note:  This is prosecution oriented information written with a view towards law enforcement and justification of the Walk and Turn test as a filed sobriety test.  Please be aware that the Walk and Turn test as a field sobriety test is fraught with problems, inaccuracies, false and voodoo science, and just plain misunderstanding in its administration and application

  • In order to perform this DWI test it is required that it be performed on a hard, dry, level, non-slipping surface with sufficient room for the suspect to complete nine heel-to-toe steps. This test loses some validity when conducted in certain wind/weather conditions that counters this criteria. The manual calls for a straight line, which must be clearly visible on the surface but in the DWI course it is taught that the test can be performed parallel to the curb. Conditions must be such that the suspect would be in no danger if he or she were to fall.

  • There are some people that this test should not be given to because even the average sober person would have difficulty with this test. People more than sixty five years of age or over fifty pounds overweight, or with any physical impairment that would affect their ability to balance should not be given this test. The officer is trained to take this into account when developing their probable cause to arrest. Individuals wearing heels more than two inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes as this may diminish the validity of the results. Individuals who can not see out of one eye may also have trouble with this test because of poor depth perception and should not be given this test.

  • The Walk and Turn test is an objective test based upon certain predictable errors that a person under the influence will display,as well as scoring factors that will give the officer a basis for passing and failing other than their subjective opinion.

  • In order to properly administer this test it is important to understand what type of test this is. It is commonly referred to as a Divided Attention Test because it divides the suspect's attention between mental and physical tasks. The physical tasks include balance and coordination while the mental tasks include comprehension of verbal instructions, processing of information and recall of memory. While a person may be able to perform one task they may not be able to perform the other if under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.

  • While the suspect is performing this test, the officer must observe the suspect from three or four feet away and remain motionless while the suspect performs the test. Being too close or excessive motion may cause the suspect to make errors they may not have committed otherwise. This will cause some validity of the results to be lost as even a sober person may have difficulty under these conditions.

  • The officer must give good verbal instructions and accompany this by demonstrations when having the suspect perform this test. They must make sure that the suspect understands the instructions and are trained to receive an acknowledgement of same and to document that affirmative response. This test is scored in relation to eight scoring factors that can be seen in two separate stages. The first stage of this test is called the Instruction Stage.

  • This will set the stage for the entire test. If the officer does not follow training and procedure during this stage, it may affect the validity of the entire test. The officer must verbally tell the suspect to assume the heel to toe stance and must demonstrate this. The suspect is told to place their left foot on the line and place their right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of left foot. This must be demonstrated. In the absence of demonstration, instructions alone decreases the tests validity.

  • The officer is instructed by way of training to make sure the right foot is in front of the left foot to start, in order to maintain uniformity of this test. This also becomes important later in the test during the turning evaluation. If the suspect is instructed or demonstrated improperly it may affect the suspect during this part of the test. After accomplishing the starting position, the officer must inform the suspect to remain in that position until they are told to start walking. The officer must make sure that the suspect understands this.

  • There are two ways that the officer, if the procedures have been abided by, that the officer can assess a point to the suspect's performance. If the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, a point is scored. This item is only scored if the suspect does not maintain the heel to toe position throughout the instructions.

  • The officer is trained to be conservative in their scoring and not to score a point if the suspect sways or uses the arms to balance but maintains the starting position during this stage. A second scoring factor is known as starting too soon. This is given when the starts to walk before the officer instructs them to do so. This can only be scored if the officer specifically instructed the suspect not to start until told to begin and the suspect stated they understood this instruction.

  • The second stage of this test is known as the Walking Stage. The officer is to explain the test requirements, using verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations. The suspect is informed again, that when told to start, they must take nine heel to toe steps, turn around, and take nine heel to toe steps back. The officer must demonstrate two or three heel to toe steps for the suspect. The officer then informs the suspect and demonstrates the same, that when the turn is performed, the suspect must keep the foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps. If the officer demonstrates or instructs with the beginning wrong foot, the way a suspect turns will be affected also. The officer, then continues with informing the suspect to keep their arms at their sides while walking, watch their feet at all times, and to count their steps out loud. They must be told that they can not stop once they start walking.

  • If the officer does not reiterate the question of understanding or gain an affirmative response the test may not be scored fairly and properly, thereby invalidating the results.

  • At one time, the maximum score obtained on this test would be nine. Currently, this has been revised to eight. There are six scoring factors that can be observed in this stage. The first one is if the suspect stops while walking to steady themselves. The officer can not score this item if the suspect is merely walking too slow. The suspect must pause for several seconds after one step. If this occurs, the officer is trained to have the suspect begin from the point of difficulty instead of starting over, as this test loses sensitivity if repeated several times. Another scoring factor is referred to as not touching heel to toe. This can be very subjective unfortunately. If the suspect leaves a one half inch or more between the heel and toe or does not walk straight along the line they can only be assessed one point, no matter how many times this occurred.

  • By subjective, I mean there is a probability the officer may be overly critical in their estimation of missing heel to toe or reference the suspect's style in walking. The officer can score a point, as well, if the suspect steps off the line. This means that one of the feet must be entirely off the line and not merely diagonal. Even if the suspect steps off twice, they are only given one point.

  • During the instruction stage if the suspect sways or uses their arms for balance a point can not be scored. A point can only be scored if during the walking stage, the suspect raises one or both arms more than six inches from the side in order to maintain balance. If this is noticed to be the normal position of the arms, as in some bodybuilders, the officer is trained to take that into account and be conservative in their scoring. Any benefit of the doubt must be given to the suspect.

  • The next way a suspect can be given a point is if they lose balance while turning. This item can only be scored if the suspect removes both feet from the line while turning or does not take several small steps, and pivots in one movement as in an about face movement. It is imperative that the officer has demonstrated and articulated this movement properly in order to be scored. It is important that the officer be conservative in their evaluation of this turn and not be overly critical. Finally, the last scoring factor is if the suspect takes the incorrect amount of steps. This item is scored only once, even if the incorrect amount of steps are taken in either direction. The suspect was instructed to look down at their feet while performing this stage of the test and to count their steps out loud, but if they don't adhere to these instructions they can not be scored a point as these are not one of the scoring factors.

  • There are two ways that the suspect can receive a maximum of eight points on this test. If they step off the line three or more times or they can not do the test. If they can not do the test, this must be explained by the officer. A degree of reliability has been attached to this test of 68%. If the suspect receives two total points on this test, the officer is trained to use this as probable cause to believe that the suspect is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and to make an arrest.

Copyright �  2006 Darby Law Office

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