This blog is the second part of a three part series discussing the standardized field sobriety tests police officers will administer as part of a DC DUI and DWI traffic stop. The first part discussed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (or “HGN”). This part discusses the second test, which is the walk and turn test.
The walk and turn test requires that you walk nine steps heel to toe along a straight line, pivot three steps to turn, and then walk nine steps back heel to toe. Police officers, who are certified to administer this test by NHTSA, look for eight cues of impairment during this test. Like with the HGN test, the officers do not tell you what the cues are and they are the sole judge of whether you pass or fail the test. The eight possible cues are:
- If you cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions;
- If you begin before the officer finishes the instructions;
- If you stop while walking to regain balance,
- If you do not touch heel-to-toe while walking;
- If you step off the line;
- If you use your arms to balance while walking or standing;
- If you make an improper turn at the end of the first nine steps;
- If you take an incorrect number of steps.
The main point of this test is to determine whether you can listen to instructions and follow them. Supposedly, the ability (or inability) to perform this test is evidence of alcohol impairment. However, in trial, I have asked police officers to step off the stand during cross-examination and asked them to perform the walk and turn test and have, on more than one occasion, witnessed the officer screw up the test. Why? Because they drank alcohol before taking the witness stand? My impression is that they are nervous to do the test in front of the judge (note the irony).
In DC DUI and DWI investigation, officers are not trained to look for or interpret an individual’s nervous behavior as a possible cause for the inability to perform this test satisfactorily. Often times, as well, police officers fail to give the instructions properly but, because no independent mechanism exists to verify the accuracy of the testing, it does not matter and they will make the arrest anyway.
Officers are trained to find an actual line on the ground (like a line on the sidewalk) when they administer the test in a DC DUI traffic stop. However, they often just ask you to use an “imaginary” line. The type of shoes you have on can impact your ability to perform the test. Knee injuries, obesity, and whether the ground is at an incline can all negatively impact your ability to perform the test. Police officers who administer this test are supposed to ask you if you have any health problems that could impact your ability to perform the test. However, most people, whether they have health problems or injuries, simply don’t know what type of injuries would impact their ability to do this test. I have never heard of any real life scenario where someone is required to walk heel to toe.