Standard Field Sobriety Test, the Walk and Turn

Field Sobriety Test

Police officers in New Jersey and in other states across the country use many tests to see if a person has been driving intoxicated. You may be familiar with some of the tests, either through personal experience or having seen them on tv, such as having a driver close his or her eyes and touch his or her nose with one finger, or reciting the alphabet backwards. While parts of these tests may help influence a police officer into believing whether a person has been driving drunk, there are only three official tests that are part of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), developed and approved of by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and admissible in court:

  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
  2. The Walk and Turn
  3. The One-Leg Stand

The officers who administer these tests are trained to look for certain clues in a driver. Similar to the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, which we previously discussed here at the Edward M. Janzekovich Law Blog, there are specific things that an officer considers signs of intoxication when it comes to the Walk and Turn test. At the same time, many of the clues are considered subjective. For that reason, it is important that you retain an experienced attorney if you are ever arrested for a DUI. A knowledgeable DUI/DWI attorney will be able to review the records and possibly identify weaknesses in the intoxication evidence to defend against it at trial or maybe even have it thrown out completely.

The Walk and Turn Test

In the walk and turn test, a driver is told to place his left foot on a line – possibly a line painted in the road or drawn by the officer – and then place his right foot in front of the left foot, touching heel to toe, one foot after another for a given number of steps. The driver must place his or her arms at his or her sides – meaning the driver cannot extend his or her arms for balance. The driver is then expected to remain in this “Instructional Position” while the police officer explains the test instructions. The driver cannot start the test until police officer states, “Begin.”

The standardized instructions are:

  • “When told to begin, you will walk nine heel to toe steps, turn, and take nine heel to toe steps back”;
  • “During the turn, keep your front foot on the line, and execute the turn by taking a series of small steps with your other foot”;
  • “While walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times and count out loud each step”;
  • “Do not stop until you have finished the test.”

The officer will then ask if the driver has any questions before telling the driver to begin.

What Police Officers Are Looking for When Performing the Test

When a police officer gives the test, he or she is actually watching the driver for signs of intoxication long before the officer says, “begin.” This means that the real test begins with the officer’s observations long before the driver takes his or her first step.

The officer is specifically looking to see if the driver:

  1. Keeps his or her balance at all times;
  2. Remains in the “Instruction Position” while listening to the instructions, and does not begin until instructed;
  3. Does not stop in the middle of the test;
  4. Touches heel to toe for each step;
  5. Stays on the line for all of the test;
  6. Uses his or her arms for balance, which is not permitted to be raised beyond six inches;
  7. Does the turn as instructed; and
  8. Takes the correct number of steps.

If the driver misses heel to toe once with a gap greater than 1/2 inch, the officer will check off one clue of possible intoxication for the heel-to-toe requirement.

How a Lawyer May Challenge the Walk and Turn Test

Because officers are trained to analyze a driver’s behavior, appearance, and how he or she performs on any SFST, a good lawyer can also use this same information to help in defending against a DUI/DWI conviction. Because these tests are not perfect and subject to human error, it is important to always consult an experienced lawyer if you or someone you know is charged with drunk driving. A DUI attorney may be able to fight the charges against you or have the charges dismissed completely.

New Jersey DUI/DWI Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Is Ready to Help Drivers Charged with Drunk Driving

An arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely serious, and the penalties can include fines, loss of driving privileges, and even jail time. Defending against drunk driving charges can also involve complicated evidentiary issues, especially when specific tests or scientific evidence is involved. If you are charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence of any substance in New Jersey, an experienced DWI/DUI attorney can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.