Walk and Turn Clues – Understanding the DWI Test

walk and turn clues

Driving while intoxicated (DWI), or sometimes referred to as DUI, is a serious charge. You are presumed legally intoxicated in Texas if it is shown at trial your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% at the time you are driving. You can face criminal charges if an officer accuses you of drunk driving, and the fines and penalties can be very severe if convicted.

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 the agility test as he is giving you instructions, and 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. This test can be failed easily, even if you aren’t legally intoxicated.

Background on the Walk and Turn Test (WAT)

Each state across the country governs the various types of field sobriety tests permitted within its jurisdiction to test whether individuals are DWI. 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 DWI/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 This test was first developed in the 1970s and one common critique is that the test is severely outdated.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 DWI/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. In fact, the walk and turn has not been validated for those aged 65 or above, but is still commonly used by police officers. Your weight could also be a consideration, as the heavier you are, the more challenging parts of the walk and turn test might be. The walk and turn test has not been validated in those 50 pounds or more overweight. 

Officers will often use this test in their investigation and claim they took the subject’s weight into account without being able to articulate how it was “taken into account”. 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 often tell you before administering the walk and turn test that you need to take the test, however that is not true. Officers should ask you 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 DWI/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 while they give you the remaining instructions. If you drop your feet side by side as the officer is instructing you, this counts as a clue. 

You will then have to place your arms down by your sides which makes it even harder to balance, and losing your balance even slightly, is considered a clue. The officer will then instruct you to take a series of nine heel to toe steps, touching the heel of your lead foot to the toe of the back foot. You must count each step out loud as you take nine steps. 

Officers count missing heal to toe or stepping off line by more than half an inch as clues. When you get to your ninth step you are instructed to turn in a specific way, 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.

horizontal-gaze-nystagmus HGN

Quick and practical advice for passing the Walk and Turn (WAT) test

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

    • 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.
    • Do not step off the line for any reason irrespective of whether the line is real or imaginary.
    • Place your arms down to your side, as instructed. Do not raise them up in an attempt to maintain your balance.
    • Make sure that for every step you take, you are touching your heel to your toe.
    • Count the steps out loud as you take them. You will need to take nine steps.
    • Do not stop walking until you have completed the number of steps that the police tell you to walk. It should be nine steps.
    • When you get to your 9th step, leave your lead foot planted and use the opposite foot to take a series of small steps. Do not pivot or take one big step to turn around.
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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 not only applies to unreasonable searches in a citizen’s home, but also on a citizen’s body and in their vehicle. Many DWI/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 DWI walk and turn test, you will need a competent DWI defense attorney. An aggressive DWI 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 Texas DWI lawyer 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 DWI, Criminal Defense, and Family Law. The attorneys at Soyars and Morgan Law, P.C. have experience litigating DWI 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 DWI representation, contact Soyars and Morgan Law, P.C. today! We can help you fight for your freedom and personal reputation.

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