Field sobriety tests are roadside tests police conduct during a traffic stop in Massachusetts to determine if a driver is impaired or unlawfully under the influence of alcohol or another chemical substance. The walk-and-turn test is one of the most commonly used field sobriety tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also considers it as one of three standardized field sobriety tests and the results can be used as evidence against you in OUI cases.
If you had to perform a walk-and-turn test, it is important you understand what it is and how it can be challenged. Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer James Dunn represents clients in all types of OUI cases. Contact us at 617-504-4881 to get your free consultation and discover how we can help you defend against OUI charges.
What is a Walk-and-Turn Test?
The walk-and-turn test is a standardized field sobriety test typically used by the police to determine whether a driver is unlawfully under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This test is what's known as a divided attention test: the police get you the shift conscious attention from one task (standing without staggering) and another task (listening to instructions).
Administration of the Walk-and-Turn Test
During the walk-and-turn test, the police are supposed to provide clear and unequivocal instructions and demonstrate the task at hand before you begin the test.
The test itself involves walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, for approximately nine steps with your arms at your side. Then, at the conclusion of the nine steps, you turn around and walk back to the starting point in the same heel-to-toe manner.
The NHTSA requires certain conditions in order for the test to be performed properly.
- A designated straight line
- A reasonably dry, hard, level non-slippery surface
- Adequate room for nine steps
- An option to remove shoes with heels two inches high
Walk-and-Turn Test Clues of Impairment
The purpose of field sobriety tests is to identify clues that indicate you are impaired. The walk-and-turn test incorporates eight clues:
- Lack of balance while following instructions
- Beginning before instructed to begin
- Failing to touch your heel to your toe while walking
- Stepping off of the straight line
- Stopping while walking
- Raising or moving arms to maintain balance
- Making an improper turn
- Taking more or fewer than nine steps
Missing or failing two or more clues is supposed to indicate that your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is likely over 0.08 percent. However, this field sobriety test, like the others, is flawed and vulnerable to problems that make relying on the results suspect.
Problems with the Walk-and-Turn Test in Massachusetts
The walk-and-turn test is not a reliable way to determine unlawful intoxication. Problems often involve how the test is administered, pre-existing physical or mental conditions, and unsatisfactory environmental conditions.
The police make mistakes. They may not provide proper instructions or may interpret the test improperly. For example, an officer may count a person's slow walk as a clue for stopping while walking. Slow walking, however, is specifically identified by the NHTSA as not stopping, but it can be hard to determine what's slow and what's stopping. It all depends on the point of view or interpretation of the officer.
Research by the NHTSA has shown this test is not suitable for anyone who:
- is over the age of 65
- has back or leg problems
- has middle ear problems
But other health issues, whether physical or mental, can negatively affect a person's performance. Anxiety is a serious health condition. Sufferers of anxiety can experience an anxiety attack from the traffic stop alone, not to mention being asked to perform a divided attention test.
The NHTSA requires a certain environment for this test to be properly performed. Unfortunately, you do not get to choose where you are pulled over for a traffic stop. There is no guarantee the ground will be level and non-slippery or that enough room will be available to safely complete the test.
Further, other environmental conditions can cause distractions and disruptions, like:
- loud, heavy traffic
- weather conditions (rain, snow, cold, heat)
- glaring sun or no sun at all, making it difficult to see
Why These Problems Matter
These problems matter because if you failed the test, it can be used to influence a jury that you were indeed impaired while operating a vehicle. It can also be used to influence you to agree to a plea deal when minus failed field sobriety tests, you could have gotten the charges dismissed (or may not have even been taken into custody in the first place).
Field sobriety tests are used to create probable cause. Probable cause is required for an arrest. When field sobriety tests are unreliable and probable cause is based on them, you suddenly face possible criminal charges that are not necessary. The whole process can be emotionally exhausting, time-consuming, and costly.
Five Ways to Challenge Field Sobriety Test Results in Massachusetts
If you took and failed a field sobriety test, like the walk-and-turn test, you need to challenge the test result by all means possible. These results can be used against you in court. At James Dunn, our OUI defense lawyer may challenge the results using different strategies. The strategy used depends on the facts and circumstances.
- Did the officer administer the tests improperly or fail to provide adequate instructions? We will review any audio or video as well as speak to you and other witnesses.
- Did the road, traffic, or weather conditions impact performance? We can review videos, photographs, weather reports, traffic reports, and other forms of evidence.
- Did your shoes, clothing, or health condition impact performance? We will review your clothing and health conditions with you.
- Was the officer's subjective assessment flawed? We will again review any videos or testimony and consider if this is a valid claim.
- Were your constitutional rights violated? You have certain rights, and if the police violated any of these rights, evidence obtained as a result of the violation could be suppressed from evidence.
It is always critical to speak to a defense attorney in your jurisdiction to make sure what your rights are and how best to fight the drunk driving charges.
Contact Massachusetts OUI Defense Attorney James Dunn Now
Walk-and-turn tests are often unreliable and can be challenged. Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer James Dunn will review the circumstances of your OUI event and challenge any results from field sobriety tests, breath tests, or blood tests. When appropriate, we will file motions to exclude the results from evidence. Contact us today by filling out the online form or calling us at 617-504-4881 to get your free consultation.