Daniel Hynes

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Challenging the walk and turn test

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Challenging the Validity of the Walk and Turn Test

An increasing number of DWI lawyers across the country are beginning to question the validity of field sobriety tests. It is difficult to determine whether or not these tests are designed to genuinely gauge a motorist’s level of impairment or whether he or she cannot multitask or are poorly coordinated. The walk and turn test is an excellent example of a questionable field sobriety test.

Taken directly from their website, this is how the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration defines and describes the walk and turn test:

“The Walk-and-Turn test and One-Leg Stand test are “divided attention” tests that are easily performed by most unimpaired people. They require a suspect to listen to and follow instructions while performing simple physical movements. Impaired persons have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between simple mental and physical exercises.

In the Walk-and-Turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance, makes an improper turn, or takes an incorrect number of steps. NHTSA research indicates that 79 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.08 or greater (Stuster and Burns, 1998).”

What Do “Roadside Olympics” Prove?

An individual who has poor coordination or balance will suffer a severe disadvantage when it comes to field sobriety tests, or the “Roadside Olympics”. If a person’s ability to walk, heel to toe, in a straight line, without using their arms for balance, was critical to their ability to drive, then this test would be on the New Hampshire driving test.

When a critical eye is cast over the research that has been poured into developing field sobriety tests, it fails to find a scientific link between the test’s pass/fail rate and actual performance. The only evidence we see between the two has been self-reported by police agencies across the United States. Consequently, it is not difficult for police agencies to manipulate the data in their favor, and regardless of whether they actually did so or not, to report having administered the tests exactly as they should have.

Going Against Natural Instinct

The walk and turn test is simply not indicative of what occurs in the real world. When an individual is put through any sort of test that tests their balance, it is their natural instinct to use their arms for balance. Even highly coordinated and conditioned gymnasts of Olympic caliber use their arms to assist in controlling their balance when doing similar exercises. However, one of the first instructions a police officer will give regarding the walk and turn test is to not use your arms for balance.

Law enforcement officers will also instruct motorists not to begin the test before they are instructed to do so. However, as a social species, humans naturally want to please those whom they are attempting to impress. Naturally, we wish to begin immediately to show the police officer we are capable of performing this test; however, to do so is considered a sign of impairment.

The real world dynamics of field sobriety tests, in regards of the when, when, and how these tests are conducted, all factor into how well a person performs; however, this is not accounted for in a court of law. Even Marcelline Burns, a Ph.D. scientist who was instrumental in the development of these tests, has given testimony, under oath, that there is no direct correlation between a motorist’s ability to drive and their performance on the tests.

Challenging These Results In Court

Our experienced NH DWI lawyers frequently challenge the results of field sobriety tests, including the walk and turn test, in New Hampshire court rooms. Often, simply by highlighting these facts with regards to a client’s case, we can persuade a jury or judge to adopt our point of view. Frequently, the New Hampshire court system will decide that the case’s prosecutor has not met their evidentiary burden, which results in a “not guilty” verdict. For a free consultation of your case, please give us a call today.

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Guest Monday, 05 June 2023