Walk and Turn Clues – Understanding the DWI Test

walk and turn clues

Driving while drunk (DWI), or as known in Texas as Driving Under the Influence (DUI), is a serious charge. You are legally intoxicated in Texas when your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08%. As soon as drugs or alcohol affect your impairment so you cannot drive or fly or boat safely, you are breaking the law. The fines and penalties can be very severe and you can even be charged criminally for driving drunk.

If you are stopped by a police officer for suspected drunk driving, you may be asked to do the walk and turn test to determine your sobriety. It is a divided attention test that includes both verbal cues and physical responses. Usually the officer will demonstrate first, but then ask you to perform it. This article takes you through the walk and turn clues that are often asked of drivers during a traffic stop and that this test can be failed easily, even if you aren’t legally intoxicated.

Holiday Fun and Driving While Intoxicated

The Fourth of July is a favorite American holiday. But unfortunately, fireworks and family barbeques have become overshadowed by staggering amounts of car accidents across the country. Many of these car accidents are due to drinking and driving. In 2022, approximately 47.9 million Americans are expected to travel fifty miles or more for the weekend of June 30th through July 4th. According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety utilizing data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, between 2010 and 2014, July 4th had the second highest percent of car crash deaths that were linked to alcohol, and July 3rd was also in the top ten most deadly days of the year.

It is undeniable that DWI arrests are rampant during holiday weekends. Police are under tremendous pressure to try to meet their quotas during these times. But DUI’s are no joke. They are costly. You can expect that your car insurance rates will go up significantly. You can expect that your driver’s license might be suspended. You can expect that your personal and professional reputation may be harmed. Worse yet, you could also expect that you might obtain a criminal record.

Background on the Walk and Turn Test (WAT)

Each state across the country governs the various types of DUI (or DWI) and sobriety tests permitted within their jurisdiction. Perhaps one of the most well-known tests commonly utilized is the Walk and Turn Test. It is one of three field sobriety tests standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that works to reduce deaths, injuries, and the economic costs due to motor vehicle crashes.

The walk and turn test is classified as a divided attention test, as it is designed to detect both physical and mental impairments because it forces the driver to focus on two tasks simultaneously. In theory, the test is meant to assess whether a person suspected of a DUI can listen, follow, and remember instructions while performing various physical movements. This seems straight forward enough, but mishaps are common.

Why the Walk and Turn Test is Rigged

The problem is that the police have rigged the DWI test. The walk and turn field sobriety test is designed to have you fail it. This test was first developed in the 1970s and one common critique is that the test is severely outdated. Common sense should also have you question the validity of the test. We all know someone who is unable to walk in a straight line, even when completely sober.

Furthermore, not all roads are safe to walk on. Sometimes a police officer will make a DUI suspect participate in the walk and turn test on a dangerous road. What you are wearing could also impact your ability to pass the walk and turn field test, especially if you are wearing uncomfortable shoes or high heels. The condition of the road, and whether there are any inclines or declines on it, could also contribute to whether you have the ability to maintain your balance.

Another factor that could impact your ability to pass the walk and turn field test is the weather. If it is raining or windy out, you could be more likely to slip and potentially fall down. Your age could also make it more challenging for you to pass the walk and turn test, as those who are sixty-five years old or older, may have a harder time focusing and may lack coordination. Your weight could also be a consideration, as the heavier you are, the more challenging parts of the walk and turn test might be. You will also likely be nervous, which might impact your ability to concentrate and correctly perform during the walk and turn test. All of the above listed issues can present potential challenges to the validity of a walk and turn test from a legal stand-point.

What are the Police Looking for During the Walk and Turn (WAT) Test?

During the walk and turn test, the police are assessing for “clues” otherwise known as “cues” or “goof ups.” If you make only two small clues of intoxication, you have “failed” the walk and turn test. The police should always tell you before administering the walk and turn test that you need to take the test. They should also ask if you have had any illnesses or injuries that might impair you from successfully completing the walk and turn test before they administer it. Many police officers fail to ask this simple question. If an officer suspects you of a DUI, they will ask you to get out of your car and walk in a straight line as part of the walk and turn test. The officer is supposed to explain and demonstrate what is required of you prior to actually administering the walk and turn test so that there is no confusion.

More specifically, the officer is supposed to ask that you stand with your right foot in front of your left foot in a heel touching stance for nine steps. You will then have to place your arms down by your sides which makes it even harder to balance. You have to count out loud as you take nine steps. Losing your balance even slightly, is also considered a clue. Not counting out loud or misnumbering the steps, is a clue. Usually, you are then asked to turn around and repeat the test, this time walking towards the officer. As you can see, it is actually difficult to pass the walk and turn test as there are many ways to potentially make a mistake on the test while being stone cold sober.

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The below points contain some quick and practical advice for passing the sobriety test commonly referred to as the Walk and Turn (WAT) test:

 

  1. Wait until you are instructed to begin the walk and turn test before walking. Most people just start walking without ever suspecting that the first clue has been triggered because they started walking before they were ever instructed to begin the test.
  2. Do not step off the line for any reason irrespective of whether the line is real or imaginary.
  3. Place your arms down to your side, as instructed. Do not raise them up in an attempt to maintain your balance.
  4. Make sure that for every step you take, you are touching your heel to your toe.
  5. Count the steps out loud as you take them. You will need to take nine steps.
  6. Do not stop walking until you have completed the number of steps that the police tell you to walk. It should be nine steps.
  7. Do not turn unless asked to by the officer. Once asked by the officer to turn, turn. But do not turn incorrectly or improperly.

Understand Your Legal Rights

Every American has a Fourth Amendment right protected by the United States Constitution to be spared from unreasonable search and seizures. This right does not only apply to unreasonable searches in a citizen’s home, but also on a citizen’s body and in their vehicle. Many DUI tests, including forced blood extractions and breathalyzer tests, might be considered a violation of your fourth amendment rights. But what about a WAT test? The police are permitted to stop a vehicle if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime. For example, if a driver is driving dangerously, speeding, driving with an expired license, or a headlight is out at night on a vehicle, the police have a legal right to pull you over. All of these instances would qualify as a reasonable suspicion.

Remember that the police must always have a reasonable suspicion in order to pull you over and before administering a walk and turn test on you. Any evidence gathered during an unlawful search may be considered the result of the legal theory known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” or invalid. Subsequently, all evidence obtained from that illegal search must then be thrown out and cannot be used against you.

What You Should Do If You Fail a Walk and Turn Test And Get Arrested for Driving While Intoxicated

If the police inform you that you failed your DUI walk and turn test, you will need a competent DUI defense attorney. An aggressive DUI defense team knows to file a motion to suppress evidence when it is the result of an unlawful search. A strong legal defense team will also be able to vet, retain, and hire experts who can testify competently and persuasively at trial. The experts can explain how the walk and turn test was inaccurate in your case. For example, they can underscore how road conditions were dangerous or explain how the walk and turn test is flawed in both its intent and execution.

Competent defense attorneys also know to retain scientific experts to analyze standardized testing implemented by police departments. In cases involving blood tests, experts can testify as to whether the data behind any blood test was administered properly, closely examined, and considered for cross contamination before and after the blood draw. The data behind the breathalyzer test is also frequently flawed and can be persuasively challenged in court. Only an experienced attorney who understands the science and inherent bias behind these tests can help you win at trial.

Soyars and Morgan Law, P.C. is a San Antonio, Texas law firm specializing in DUI, Criminal Defense, and Family Law. The attorneys at Soyars and Morgan Law, P.C. have experience litigating DUI cases. If you, or someone you know has been charged with driving while intoxicated in San Antonio, and has questions about challenging a field sobriety test result and needs DUI representation, contact Soyars and Morgan Law, P.C. today! We can help you fight for your freedom and personal reputation.