Welcome back to the fifth piece in my ten part blog series on of our Standard Field Sobriety Tests series. The previous four posts have focused on optical signs of intoxication and the proper administration of such exams. Today we’ll be looking at the next component of police SFSTs which will look at the walk and turn test.
In order to properly administer this test, it is important to first understand what type of exam this is. It is commonly referred to as a “Divided Attention Test” (DAT) because it divides the suspect’s attention between mental and physical tasks. They are the most objective and reliable tests for developing probable cause to make an arrest for a violation of the New Jersey drunk driving law. It is important to point out that nowhere in these tests does the officer require that the suspect close their eyes to perform the test. This will invalidate the reliability of any testing.
The physical tasks include balance and coordination while the mental tasks include comprehension of verbal instructions, processing of information, and recall of memory. While a person may be able to perform one task, they may not be able to perform the other if under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.
This series of testing requires that it be performed on a hard, dry, level, non-slippery surface with sufficient room for the suspect to complete nine heel-to-toe steps. It loses validity when conducted in certain wind/weather conditions that counters this criterion.
The manual calls for a straight line, which must be clearly visible on the surface. The test can also be performed parallel to a curb or other marking that allows the subject to understand where he or she is to walk. Conditions must be such that the suspect would be in no danger if he or she were to fall. And there are some for whom this test is not appropriate. People more than sixty-five years of age, over fifty pounds overweight, or with any physical injury or defect that would affect their ability to balance should not be given this test.
The officer is trained to take this into account when developing their probable cause to arrest. Individuals wearing heels more than two inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes, as this may diminish the validity of the results. Individuals who cannot see out of one eye may also have trouble with this test because of poor depth perception and, therefore, should not be given this test.
The Walk and Turn test is an objective test based upon certain predictable errors that a person under the influence will display, as well as scoring factors that will give the officer a basis for passing and failing other than their subjective opinion. While the suspect is performing this test, the officer must observe them from three or four feet away and remain motionless while the exam is being performed. Standing too close or excessive motion caused by the officer may cause the suspect to make errors they may not have committed otherwise. This will cause some validity of the results to be lost as even a sober person may have difficulty under these conditions.
So if you previously thought this test applies to all situations, think again. As I’ve stated, there are certain instances when the walk and turn exam is inappropriate and if it is performed under less than ideal climatic conditions, the results are invalid and should not be used in determining someone’s drunkenness. If you’ve read this article and discovered that you fall under one of the exclusionary categories but this text was performed on you anyway, call me, defense attorney Leon Matchin, today at (732) 662-7658 so we can start devising a strategy for your case.
Tune tuned until next time where we’ll examine the proper instructions for the walking tests in Part VI.