In November 2016, two New Jersey State Troopers found a gentleman asleep in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle. Indeed, news reports indicate the police found the gentleman slouched over and sleeping. Meanwhile, the hazard lights blinked in the parked car on the shoulder of a highway in Teaneck. The gentleman woke up after about three minutes. And he allegedly activated the brake lights and the rear windshield wipers as the troopers asked him to turn off the car. Police also alleged the presence of a strong odor of alcohol when the gentleman opened the window. After ordering the gentleman to exit the vehicle, the troopers performed standardized field sobriety tests. Subsequently, the troopers charged this gentleman with drunk driving. In May 2017, however, the gentleman was found not guilty.
Walk and Turn Test
To establish probable cause for a DUI arrest, and ostensibly to prove operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence, police conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). Included in this battery of tests is the Walk and Turn Test, which requires a dry, hard, level, and non-slippery surface. Additionally, the Walk and Turn Test requires a designated straight line with sufficient room for the subject to complete nine heel-to-toe steps.
Walk and Turn Test Instructions
The Walk and Turn Test begins with instructions from the officer. While demonstrating each instruction, the officer should tell the subject, in effect:
- Place your left foot on the (real or imaginary) line.
- Put your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with the right foot’s heel against the left foot’s toe.
- Place your arms down at your sides.
- 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?
Walk and Turn Test Demonstration
After verifying the subject understands, the officer should continue the Walk and Turn Test instructions. While demonstrating each instruction, the officer should tell the subject, in effect:
- When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back.
- When you turn, keep your front foot on the (real or imaginary) line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with your other foot.
- 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, do not stop until you have competed the test.
- Do you understand the instructions?
Walk and Turn Test Performance
After verifying the subject understands, the officer should instruct the subject to begin, and count the first step from the heel-to-toe position as “One.” The officer should observe the subject from a safe distance while remaining as still as possible so as not to interfere. The officer will watch for whether the subject:
- Keeps balance while listening to instructions. The beginning of the test requires two tasks: listening and balancing in a heel-to-toe position. An impaired person typically cannot do these together. The officer is supposed to note this only if the subject fails to maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions.
- Starts before the instructions are finished. An impaired person might maintain balance but not listen to instructions. The officer should record any false starts.
- Stops while walking. The officer should record this only if the subject pauses for several seconds. The officer should not record this if the subject walks slowly.
- Touches heel-to-toe. The officer should record this only if the subject leaves a space of more than one-half inch between the heel and toe of any step.
- Steps off the line. The officer should record this only if the subject steps so that one foot is entirely off the path.
- Uses arms to balance. The officer should record this only if the subject raises one or both arms more than six inches from the sides to maintain balance.
- Turns improperly. The officer should record this only if the subject removes the front foot from the (real or imaginary) line while turning, or if the subject does not pivot as demonstrated.
- Takes incorrect number of steps. The officer should record this only if the subject takes more or fewer than nine steps in either direction.
Defending a person charged under the DUI statute requires the ability to analyze the officer’s administration of the tests. Of course, that requires a thorough knowledge of these tests as well as the law. And while I hope everyone passes these tests with flying colors, if the officer decides you failed, NJ Drunk Driving Lawyer Michael A. Smolensky, Esquire, knows how to protect his clients. Mr. Smolensky can provide consultations on all cases involving DUI. Call Now—(856) 812-0321.