Part 3: How does a DWI (driving while intoxicated) investigation in Austin, Texas work? The Walk and Turn Test

Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Tests FSTS

Posted on: July 6, 2016

The next field sobriety test that is generally given is the Walk and Turn test.  This blog will focus exclusively on the Walk and Turn test.  The Walk and Turn test is probably the one you are most familiar from television.  Again, I advise all clients and all potential clients not to take any the field sobriety tests as they are absolutely voluntary.  If you choose to do the field sobriety tests, however, this blog will describe the way the test is supposed to be properly instructed and performed.  The Walk and Turn test seems like a relatively simple FST.  The first thing the officer is looking when giving this test is the ability of the subject to follow multiple instructions.  Of course, the officer claims that the instructions are easy to follow, however, the officer is feeding you an awful lot of information in a very short period of time.

Allegedly, the reason field sobriety tests are given in the first place is that they are supposed to be divided attention exercises.  Driving is a divided attention exercise.  You have to monitor speed, move your foot from the gas to break, you have to steer, you have to react to the unexpected, you have to respond to lights, and so and so forth.   The officer or the state's expert will likely testify that the field sobriety tests given in the field are much easier divided attention exercises than driving.  Truth be told, the good news about the Walk and Turn is that is extremely rare that someone dies while performing it.

Breaking down the Walk and Turn test into its simplest form, the subject is supposed to take 9 heel to toe steps in one direction along an imaginary or real line, make an appropriate turn, then return by taking 9 heel to toe steps along that same line.  It sounds simple enough, but there an awful lot of things that officers are looking for on this test, and the way it is scored it is quite easy to "fail."  (They say that field sobriety tests are not pass/fail to which I reply either was the bar exam.)

Below you will read about how the test is supposed to be instructed and given in the field:

Walk & Turn (WAT) (AKA, Heel-to-Toe) 

1.  Test Conditions

      A.  The test requires a designated straight line.  Ideally, there should be a real line for the test to be performed on rather than an imaginary line.  Note:  This criterion is in conflict with (2)(a)(1) immediately below.

      B.  The test should be conducted on a reasonably dry, hard, level,  non-slippery surface.

      C.  This test is not appropriate for subjects over the age of 65 or subjects that are 50 or more pounds overweight.  In addition, subjects with back, leg, or middle ear problems will have difficulty performing the test.  

      D.  Subjects that are wearing with shoes with heels more than 2 inches high should be given the opportunity to remove the shoes before the  test.  It should be noted that performing the Walk and Turn test in the field                 asphalt without shoes creates its own set of problems.

     E.  The tester should limit his/her movement because movement has a tendency to distract the subject performing the test.  

     F.  External conditions can interfere with a subject's performance on the Walk and Turn.  These external conditions includ wind/weather conditions, subject's age, weight, and the subject's footwear and clothing.

2.  Administrative Procedures

     A.  INSTRUCTION PHASE:  The subject should be given the following instructions orally.

          1.  Place your left foot on the line.  This should be done whether the line is real or  imaginary and demonstrated for the subject.  

          2.  Place your right foot on the line in front of your left foot, with the heel of the right foot against the toe of your left foot.  Again, this should be demonstrated for the subject.  

         3.  Place your arms down by your sides.  Again, this should be demonstrated for the client.  

         4.  Keep this position until i tell you to begin the test.  Do not start to walk until you are instructed to do so.  

         5.  Ask the subject, "Do you understand the instructions so far?"  Make sure the subject gives you an affirmative yes or no indicated that he/she understands.  

         6.  When I tell you to start the test, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back.  Now, I am going to demonstrate by taking 3 steps and showing you the proper turn, but remember you are to

              take 9 heel-to-toe steps.  

         7.  During your 3 step demonstration make sure to demonstrate the proper turn and during the demonstration give the following instructions:  "When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series               of small steps with the other foot, like this.   (As an aside, from my experience of watching thousands of videos and seeing at least 100 subjects in the field, this is where the officer has the most difficulty with the                   instructions and demonstration.  This is also the area where the subject tends to have the most difficulty.   

         8.  While you are walking, keep your arms  at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud.  (Again, based upon my experience this is the instruction that is most often omitted.  

         9.  Once you start walking, don't stop until you have completed the test.

        10. Do you understand the instructions?  Make sure the subject answers orally in the affirmative.

        11.  Begin, and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as One.  (This instruction is also often omitted.)

B.  Performance/Grading the Walk and Turn

        1.    Subject cannot keep his balance while listening to the instructions.  (Right front in front of left foot touching heel to toe on the line.)

               i.  This should only be scored if the subject does not maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions, meaning his/her feet must actually break apart.

               ii. You should not score this clue if the subject sways/uses his arms to balance himself, but maintains the heel-to-toe position.  

        2.  Subject starts walking before being instructed to do so.  

        3.  Subject stops while walking.

            i.  This should only be recorded if the subject stops for several seconds.

            ii. Do not record this as a clue if the subject is merely walking slowly.  

        4.  The subject does not touch heel-to-toe.  The gap between the heel and toe must be more than 1/2 inch.

        5.  The subject steps off the line.  At least one foot must be entirely off the line.  This is difficult to score when using an imaginary line.

        6.  The subject uses arms to balance.  The arms must be raised more than 6 inches from the subject's sides to score this as a clue.  (As many ladies will attest, six inches is not a whole lot, which makes this portion              of the test very difficult.)

        7.  The subject makes an improper turn.

              i.  Subject removes front foot from the line while turning.

              ii.  Subject does not follow instructions and demonstration on how to make a proper turn for instance the subject spins or pivots around.

       8.   The subject takes an incorrect number of steps either going out or coming back.  Obviously, this means more or fewer than 9 steps. 

If the subject has difficulty at some point performing the test, continue the test from the point of difficulty, do not start from the beginning.  Each clue may appear several times, but it still only counts as one clue.  If the suspect cannot do the test at all record it as if all 8 clues were observed.  There are a total of 8 clues on this test.  2 or more clues is significant.  Some studies suggest around an 80% likelihood that the subject is over 0.08% if he/she exhibits 2 or more clues on this test.  Again, this is not what the studies really show.  A good defense attorney should hopefully be able to shut down a police officer trying to get these percentages in.  (Sometimes judges allow it.)

Click this link to see the walk and turn test performed in a laboratory setting.  












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