Field Sobriety Testing: Walk and Turn Test

In order to perform this DWI test it is required 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. This test loses  validity when conducted in certain wind/weather conditions that counters this criteria. 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 is to walk. Conditions must be such that the suspect would be in no danger if he or she were to fall.

There are some people for whom this test is not appropriate. People more than sixty five years of age or 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 can not see out of one eye may also have trouble with this test because of poor depth perception and 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.

In order to properly administer this test it is important to understand what type of test this is. It is commonly referred to as a Divided Attention Test because it divides the suspect’s attention between mental and physical tasks. 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.

While the suspect is performing this test, the officer must observe the suspect from three or four feet away and remain motionless while the suspect performs the test. Being too close or excessive motion 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.

The officer must give good verbal instructions and accompany this by demonstrations when having the suspect perform this test. They must make sure that the suspect understands the instructions and are trained to receive an acknowledgement of same and to document that affirmative response. This test 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 stage for the entire test. If the officer does not follow training and procedure during this stage, 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 and place their right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of left foot. This must be demonstrated. In the absence of demonstration, instructions alone decreases the tests 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, that the officer 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 score 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 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 second stage of this test is known as the Walking Stage. The officer is to explain the test requirements, using verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations. The suspect is informed again, that when told to start, they must take nine heel to toe steps, turn around, and take nine heel to toe steps back. The officer must demonstrate two or three heel to toe steps for the suspect. The officer then informs the suspect and demonstrates the same, that when the turn is performed, the suspect must keep the foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps. If the officer demonstrates or instructs with the beginning wrong foot, the way a suspect turns will be affected also. The officer, then continues with informing the suspect to keep their arms at their sides while walking, watch their feet at all times, and to count their steps out loud. They must be told that they can not stop once they start walking.

If the officer does not reiterate the question of understanding or gain an affirmative response the test may not be scored fairly and properly, thereby invalidating the results.

There are six additional scoring factors that can be observed in the walking stage of this test. The first one is if the suspect stops while walking to steady themselves. The officer can not score this item if the suspect is merely walking too slow. The suspect must pause for several seconds after one step. If this occurs, the officer is trained to have the suspect begin from the point of difficulty instead of starting over, as this test loses sensitivity if repeated several times. Another scoring factor is referred to as not touching heel to toe. This can be very subjective, unfortunately. If the suspect leaves more than one half inch between the heel and toe while walking back and forth, a scoring factor will be assessed.  The objective element of this test involves the officer’s judgment in determining and then remembering the actual distance between heel and toe.

The officer can score a point, as well, if the suspect steps off the line. This means that one of the feet must be entirely off the line and not merely diagonal. Even if the suspect steps off twice, they are only given one point.

During the instruction stage if the suspect sways or uses their arms for balance a point cannot be scored. A point can, however, be scored if, during the walking stage, the suspect raises one or both arms more than six inches from the side in order to maintain balance. If this is noticed to be the normal position of the arms, as in some bodybuilders, the officer is trained to take that into account and be conservative in their scoring. Any benefit of the doubt must be given to the suspect.

The next way a suspect can be given a point is if they lose balance while turning. This item can only be scored if the suspect removes both feet from the line while turning or does not turn as instructed with several small steps, but rather pivots in one movement as in an about-face movement. It is imperative that the officer has demonstrated and articulated this movement properly in order to be scored. It is important that the officer be conservative in their evaluation of this turn and not be overly critical. Finally, the last scoring factor is if the suspect takes the incorrect amount of steps. This item is scored only once, even if the incorrect amount of steps are taken in either direction. The suspect was instructed to look down at their feet while performing this stage of the test and to count their steps out loud, but if they don’t adhere to these instructions they cannot be scored a point as these are not one of the scoring factors.

There are two ways that the suspect can receive a maximum of eight points on this test. If they step off the line three or more times or they can not do the test. If they can not do the test, this must be explained by the officer. A degree of reliability has been attached to this test of 68%. If the suspect receives two total points or more on this test, the officer is trained to use this as probable cause to believe that the suspect is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and to make an arrest.