This is the sixth installment of a 10-part series on Standard Field Sobriety Tests. I am defense attorney, Leon Matchin and in the first four blogs, we’ve looked at HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus), how to test for eye-related signs of intoxication and how they can affect the outcome of an optical field sobriety test. This time, we will be following up our previous conversation on the Walk and Turn exam by discussing what the proper instruction for such should be.
When having the suspect perform this test, the officer must give good verbal instructions and accompany it by demonstrations. They must make sure that the suspect understands the instructions and are trained to receive an acknowledgment of same and to document that affirmative response. This exam is scored in relation to eight scoring factors that can be seen in two separate stages.
The first stage of this test is called the Instruction Stage. This will set the premise for the entire analysis and if the officer does not follow training and procedure during this exchange, it may affect the validity of the entire test. The officer must verbally tell the suspect to assume the heel to toe stance and must demonstrate this. The suspect is told to place their left foot on the line then to place their right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of left foot. In the absence of demonstration, instructions alone decrease the test’s validity. The position of these feet is crucial as placing the left foot in front at the outset will result in the defendant ending in turn on the wrong foot. This will interfere with the proper turn to left after the first nine steps.
There are two ways that the officer, if the procedures have been abided by, can assess a point to the suspect’s performance. If the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, a point is scored. This item is only scored if the suspect does not maintain the heel to toe position throughout the instructions. The officer is trained to be conservative in their scoring and not to award a point if the suspect sways or uses the arms to balance but maintains the starting position during this stage.
A second scoring factor is known as starting too soon. This is given when the suspect starts to walk before the officer instructs them to do so. This can only be scored if the officer specifically instructed the suspect not to start until told to begin and the suspect stated they understood this instruction.
The proper instruction and scoring of a walk and turn test are pretty straight forward as you can see from the explanation. If the observing officer does not give sufficient coaching on what you need to do, the validity of the test is nullified. Knowing this ahead of time will empower you not only with what to expect, but also with what should be asked of you in the event you are stopped for drunk driving. Don’t take a DWI charge lightly—it has severe consequences that can affect you for years to come. Be sure to call me, attorney Leon Matchin, if you find yourself facing this allegation: (732) 662-7658.
Next time, we’ll look further into the second component of this test in The Walking Stage, Part VII. Come visit me next week to learn more!