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The Walk and Turn Test

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The Walk and Turn Test

Hi, I am attorney, Kevin Hayslett, and I am here with DUI professional, Charlie Smith. Charlie, one of the questions I get from time to time is if someone has been arrested for DUI quite often they are subjected to roadside field sobriety tests. One of the tests that they are always asked to do is walking in a straight line or walking down a line, you have seen that for years as a field sobriety test. Can you tell us what this is all about, what is that walking down the line or that walk and turn test? What is the test, how is it administered, and does it have any validity at all?   

CS:    First of all, the officer has to qualify the person for the test. Simply asking them do you have anything wrong with you is not qualifying them for the test. In the manuals it specifically states a person who has problems with their legs, backs, or even an inner condition have demonstrated problems with performing these tests. So the officer needs to ask those questions specifically. Once the person has been qualified, then he puts them in what is known as a starting posture. Depending upon which manual you are reading, if you read the instructor’s manual it says one thing, if you read the student’s manual is says a different thing; but in the student manual it says that a designated line has to be used, a line out on the highway or where ever, not an imaginary line. On that designated line, the officer puts the person in the starting posture, which is left foot on the line, right foot in front of it, touching heal to toe, with hands down at their side. Then the officer says to the person, remain in this position until I tell you to do otherwise. The officer asks the person if they understand and waits to get a verbal response. At that point, the officer gives a demonstration of the test and usually the officer will put himself in the same posture. The officer will then say, when I tell you to I want you to take 9 steps down the line in heel to toe fashion such as this. The officer will do some steps. Then the officer will say, when I tell you to at the ninth step, leave your lead foot on the line, it is going to be your left foot, turn to the left taking a series of small steps, take 9 heel to toe steps back down the line. The offer will continue saying, once you start walking, look down at your feet, quietly count out loud as you go and keep your arms at your side at all times, do you understand?  The person says yes. Then the officer says you may proceed to do the test. That is all the instructions the officer will give. 

The officer will be looking for the following things:

1.    Does the person break the starting posture by stepping out to the side?
2.    Does the person start too soon? Because he has already been told not to move until told to do so and he gave a verbal response confirming that he understood.
3.    If the person is walking heel to toe. If there is a space more than a half inch, then it is considered a miss and not heel to toe. 
4.    If the person steps off the line with his foot completely.
5.    Does the person stop walking? 
6.    Does the person loose his balance when he turns? 

If he steps off the line 3 or more times than the test is stopped and all the clues are accessed, that is the scoring procedure. 

KH:     Sometimes you here people call the walk and turn test the divided attention test. Is it a divided attention test and what does that mean?

CS:    Yes, it is a divided attention test because what you are doing is asking the person to stand in this awkward position, listen to all of the instructions being given, and then turn around and do all that he was told to do. So you’re dividing the attention by having him stand in the starting posture, listening to the instructions, and then to do what he was instructed to do. Driving a car is a dividing attention example, but this test does not measure your ability to drive it only measures if alcohol is present in your system.

KH:    Is it a good measure to determine whether or not you are impaired?

CS:    No, these tests were never designed to measure impairment. Same as horizontal gaze nystagmus. It was designed to measure alcohol in the system that is it. The impairment level is left up to each individual state. 

KH:    So if you have been arrested for a DUI and you have been asked to walk down a line or to participate in the walk and turn test, one of three standardize field sobriety tests that a law enforcement officer may give you in a DUI investigation, remember, the instructions that you were given and how you were graded are very important. This is a divided attention test, meaning you are asked to do things while listening to instructions. Never mind that, the bottom line is that the test is a tool for law enforcement to determine if you may have ingested some alcohol, but it is not a test to determine whether or not you are impaired.   

The criminal defense attorneys at Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A. are fighting for our clients rights in criminal defense cases in ClearwaterTampaBradentonSpring Hill, Pinellas, Pasco, New Port Richey, Manatee, Hillsborough and Hernando Counties in Florida.

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J. Kevin Hayslett

Kevin Hayslett, Esq.

J. Kevin Hayslettis an attorney practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and DUI Defense from the Clearwater office and Hillsborough office. Kevin is an avid tennis player and is currently nationally rated in singles and doubles. You can follow Kevin onGoogle+, oron Radio IO on his show, "Kevin's Law". Kevin can also be heard on the Sirius Satellite Radio show during the "Ask the Lawyer" segment, which can be heard the first Thursday of every month.