Monday, May 2, 2011

DWI Field Sobriety Tests - The Walk and Turn

Falling somewhere between the "Hokey-Pokey" and "Simon Says" - Field Sobriety Testing for Drunk Driving is an integral element in DWI prosecution - and defense. The tests are often used by an investigating officer to establish probable cause to arrest someone for DWI; and, in cases where no test of someone's blood, breath or urine was collected - one's performance on said tests can be used to ultimately determine whether there are sufficient indicia of intoxication to establish a per se violation of the Drunk Driving law.

With this awareness of the test's importance in mind, you would be suprised how many how many police officers, prosecutors, attorneys and judges lack even a basic understanding of their procedures and what one's performance on these tests actually determines.

So, even though it may feel a little silly, the next time you're throwing back a few "pops" - you might want to consider making yourself something of an expert on Field Sobriety Tests by practicing them - at a time in which your not under the watchful eye of a police officer.

Seriously, the better you understand the tests - the more familiar you are with the instructions, the performance thereof and what's expected of you- the better your chances might become at passing them. As my dad used to loved to repeat - practice makes perfect.

In the end, would that you and I were to be able to discuss taking these tests at all - I'd advise you (in no uncertain terms) to NOT take them.  However, if you feel you need to try and impress your new friend in law enforcement - I would suggest that you become intimately familiar with what these tests are really trying to reveal --- your ability to perform a task - at a time in which your attention is being pulled in more than one direction at a time.

The Walk & Turn Test - Explained

So as not to screw this up, police officers often read from a standard set of instructions when asking a driver to perform these tests.  (Click HERE for a video explanation.) What I would suggest of you - is that prior to performing this test, make yourself familiar with the instructions, and then attempt the test.  The better you understand what will be asked of you - I would posit --- the better your chance at success.
  1. Place your left foot on the line (real or imaginary).
  2. Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, which heel of right foot against toe of left foot.
  3. Place your arms down at your sides.
  4. Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. Do not start to walk until told to do so.
  5. Do you understand the instructions so far?
  6. When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back.
  7. When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot. (Often the officer will demonstrate the exact turn he would like you to perform - pay attention.)
  8. While you are walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud.
  9. Once you start walking, don't stop until you have completed the test.
  10. Do you understand the instructions?
  11. Begin and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as one.
Now try the test.
What the Officer is Looking For
While your walking the line, this is what the police are keeping the closest eye on:
  • Did you keep your balance - while being instructed in the test?
  • Were you able to touch heel-to-toe - what was the largest distance between the two?
  • Did you keep your balance - while performing the test? 
  • Did you sway?
  • Did you "use" your arms to balance; did you raise them more than six-inches from your side?
  • Did you start the test - before being instructed to do so?
  • Did you stop in the middle of the test?
  • How did you execute the turn - was it as instructed?
  • Did you take the proper number of steps - or too few/many?
If an officer observes two or more of the above listed "clues" --- you have FAILED the test.
Now, knowing what you know, you may want to retake the test --- and in the privacy of your own home, you have that option. However, believe it or not, the certification manual for Field Sobriety Testing asserts to officers that if someone struggles with this test that he or she should NOT have a driver them re-take it - because the test loses its "sensitivity" if repeated.  Therefore, if you don't get your practice in now - odds are you're not going to get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression on an officer in the field.

What You Should Do  
At the end of the day, as any experienced, Minnesota DWI Attorney will tell you, by performing these tests -  you cold do more harm than good to your case. However, if your so inclined - understanding what you might be in for - if you do choose to take these tests - could go along way toward keeping you from a DWI arrest. 

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