I am defense attorney Leon Matchin and we are rapidly coming to a close on our 10-part series discussing Standard Field Sobriety Tests. In the last few blogs, we’ve looked at “Divided Attention Test” (DAT) which is essentially the walk and turn assessment and its proper instructions. Moving right along with the demonstration portion of these trials, this blog will look at the last component of these SFSTs, which is the one leg stand.
In order to execute this test, it must be performed on a hard, dry, level, non-slippery surface. Conditions must be such that the suspect would be in no danger if he or she were to fall. Certain wind and weather circumstances obviously may interfere with and affect the validity of this test. Like the walk and turn exam, this assessment should not be given to persons who are more than sixty-five years of age, more than fifty pounds overweight, or with physical impairments that interfere with balance. Individuals wearing heels more than two inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes as this may diminish the reliability of the results.
The officer is trained not to give this test if there is not adequate lighting to perform it. In total darkness, even the average, sober person may have difficulty with this test due to lack of their usual visual frame of reference. It is imperative that the officer observe the DWI suspect from at least three feet away and remain as motionless as possible while the suspect is performing this exam. If this is not done, the test may be interfered with and ultimately affect the results and validity.
In the administration of this DWI test, there are also two separate stages involved. The first component is also called the Instruction Stage. It is initiated by giving verbal instructions, followed and accompanied by demonstrations of those instructions. The officer is trained to advise the suspect to stand with their heels together and arms down at their sides, which must be demonstrated. The officer must also inform the suspect not to start the test until told to do so and they must receive an indication from the suspect that they understand the instructions so far and to document this acknowledgment.
There are no scoring factors involved until the suspect is into the next section, which is called the Balance and Counting Stage, unless the suspect cannot perform the test at all. In the event that happens, it would give the suspect a maximum score of four points and would necessitate explanation on the part of the officer. In the Balance and Counting Stage, the officer is required to explain the test requirements further by instructing the suspect to stand on one leg, holding the other foot in front, while the officer demonstrates. The suspect must be advised that they may stand on either leg that they wish and are asked to keep the foot raised about six inches off the ground. The officer demonstrates this and should advise the suspect if their attempt isn’t to the officer’s satisfaction.
The suspect is further instructed that while they are standing, they have to count out loud for 30 seconds, and the officer will demonstrate the count as “one-one-thousand, “two-one-thousand”, etc. The suspect is told to keep their arms at the sides at all times and to look down at their foot while counting and to continue doing so throughout the entire exercise. They are told to refrain from hopping or swaying while standing. And as with the other parts of the field exam, the suspect must again acknowledge that they understand the instruction to retain validity of the assessment. The test then commences.
As I’ve said before, the officer is required to give explicit instructions on what is being asked of you and they also must demonstrate it as to leave no confusion of what is required. Without both of these components, the validity of the assessment is nullified. Ideal weather conditions must be present for the same reason. If you feel that any of these conditions were not met when you were asked to perform a “divided attention test” to check the state of your sobriety, your rights have been violated. Call me, Leon Matchin, today at (732) 662-7658 to discuss the details of your DWI charge.
Check back next time where we will look at the overall scoring of the Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Part IX.