The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the Walk-and-Turn (and it’s twin sister the One-Leg-Stand) to serve as “divided attention tests” for people suspected of DUI. They equate these demands of these tests to driving because operating a motor vehicle is admittedly also a divided-attention task.
The Walk-and-Turn is divided into two stages: the Instruction Stage and the Walking Stage. During the Instruction Stage, the DUI suspect is asked to “assume the position”. The Officer’s instructions usually go something like this:
“I want you to imagine a line from X to Y. I want you to take your left foot and put it on that line. Then, I want you to take your right foot, put it in front of your left foot with your heel touching your toes. I want you to put your arms down by your side and remain in this position while I give the instructions. Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. Do not start to walk until told to do so. Do you understand the instructions so far?”
The purpose of this “exercise” is to test the DUI Suspect’s balance and to divide his/her attention while he focuses on remaining in this position AND focuses on the instructions the DUI Officer is about to give. DUI Suspects will make mistakes, during the Instruction Stage, in the following ways:
1) They’ll lose balance
2) They’ll begin walking before the DUI Officer is done giving instructions
The DUI Officer will then inform the DUI Suspect of what they must do to complete the Walking Stage of the Walk-and-Turn. The DUI Officer’s instruction’s usually go something like this:
“When I tell you to start, take 9 heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back. (They should demonstrate 3 steps). When you turn, keep your front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot, like this. (They should demonstrate the turn) While you are walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud. Once you start walking, don’t stop until you have completed the test. Do you understand the instructions? Begin, and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as ‘One’.”
DUI Suspects will make mistakes, during the Walking Stage, in the following ways:
1) They’ll stop after they’ve started
2) They will fail to touch heel to toe every time
3) They’ll step off the line
4) They’ll use their arms to balance (more than 6” from their sides)
5) They’ll lose balance during their turn or turn incorrectly
6) They’ll take the wrong number of steps
If the DUI Officer observes ANY 2 OR MORE of the above “clues”, he’s trained to interpret those results to mean that the DUI Suspect has a blood alcohol level of .10 or higher. Because there are 8 possible “clues” it’s incredibly easy for a DUI Suspect to exhibit 2 or more. In fact, practically every DUI client I’ve ever had failed to perform the turn correctly.
WAYS TO CHALLENGE THE WALK-AND-TURN
First, DUI Officers are trained to ensure a DUI Suspect is allowed to perform this evaluation on a reasonably dry, hard, level and non-slippery surface. They should have sufficient room to complete all 9 heel-to-toe steps.
NHTSA research has shown that anyone over the age of 65, or those with back, leg or inner ear problems have difficulty performing the test stone sober.
Anyone wearing heels 2” or taller should be allowed to remove their shoes to perform the test barefoot.
The Walk-and-Turn, by itself, is only 68% accurate, under controlled conditions, at estimating someone’s blood alcohol level.
Most DUI Officers have had so much practice at spouting the instructions that they zip through them very quickly. Giving a jury the same instructions, at the same speed, and asking them to go accurately perform the test in the deliberation room can be a very powerful tool for any DUI Defense Lawyer.
Often the DUI Officers haven’t had refresher training in YEARS! It’s recommended they receive a refresher every 2 years. As a result, many of these officers have sorta forgotten the exact wording of the “clue” they’re supposed to be observing and marking. For example, there’s really nothing in the instructions on which foot to begin walking with. While it’s most natural for your first step to be with your back foot, some DUI Suspects might take the imaginary line very seriously and start with their front foot. This is not a “clue”. Nonetheless, the arresting officer will probably list it as one and use it as a basis for arresting you.
The video of your Field Sobriety Test can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If your “clues” are easily observable by the jury and highly exaggerated (ie using arms to balance and swaying from side to side) it can be highly detrimental to your case. On the other hand, if the “clues” are difficult or impossible for the jury to observe (such as whether or not you actually touched heal-to-toe on all 18 steps) they tend to disregard such clues. At the end of the day, a good well-executed Walk-and-Turn on video can be very convincing as it is evidence of your ability to perform divided-attention tests. . .like driving a vehicle.
If you were stopped and arrested for DUI in Georgia, you should consult with an experienced DUI Lawyer. Attorney Jason Carnell has been through the exact same training police officers receive at the academy and is intimately familiar with the NHTSA Field Sobriety Test. Let an experienced DUI Attorney read your police report, watch the video of your Field Sobriety Tests and give you an honest assessment of your chances in front of a jury.