Field sobriety tests are roadside tests police conduct during a traffic stop in Rhode Island to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. The walk-and-turn test is one of the most commonly used field sobriety tests in police DUI investigations in Rhode Island. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also considers it as one of three standardized field sobriety tests (along with the HGN and One Leg Stand), which means judges and prosecutors will want to know how well you did on the test.
If you had to perform a walk-and-turn test, it is important for you to understand what the test is and how the test can be attacked in court. At The Law Office of David Ellison, our DUI defense lawyers in Rhode Island represent clients in all types of DUI cases at all stages of a DUI case. Contact us today at 401-230-5520 to schedule a consultation and to discover how we can help you defend against DUI charges.
What is the Walk-and-Turn Test?
The walk-and-turn test is a standardized field sobriety test typically used by the police to determine whether a driver might be unlawfully driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This test is what's known as a divided attention test. This means a police officer will try to get you to shift your attention from one task (a physical test) and another task (listening to instructions). The police are looking for certain clues in the test to determine if you pass or fail.
How is the Walk-and-Turn Test Administered in Rhode Island?
During the walk-and-turn test, the police are first supposed to provide clear instructions and demonstrate how to do the test before you actually begin the test.
The test itself involves walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, for nine steps with your arms at your side. Then, at the conclusion of the nine steps, you turn around and walk back to the starting point in the same heel-to-toe fashion.
The NHTSA requires certain conditions in order for the test to be performed properly.
- A designated straight line
- A reasonably dry, hard, level non-slippery surface
- Adequate room for nine steps
- An option to remove shoes with heels two inches high
What are the Walk-and-Turn Test Clues of Impairment in Rhode Island?
The purpose of field sobriety tests is to identify clues that indicate you might be impaired. The walk-and-turn test incorporates eight clues:
- Lack of balance while following instructions
- Beginning before instructed to begin
- Failing to touch your heel to your toe while walking
- Stepping off of the straight line
- Stopping while walking
- Raising or moving arms to maintain balance
- Making an improper turn
- Taking more or fewer than nine steps
If two or more clues are indicated then the test supposedly shows that your blood alcohol content (BAC) level could potentially be 0.08 or higher. However, this field sobriety test, like the others, is flawed, has issues in its execution and is vulnerable to problems that make the results potential unreliable. It is important to have a skilled DUI lawyer in your corner to help show the weaknesses in this test.
Issues with the Walk-and-Turn Test in Rhode Island
The walk-and-turn test is not a reliable way to determine unlawful intoxication. It is a test to help gather evidence for the police to later use in prosecution. Problems often involve how the test is administered, whether you have pre-existing physical or mental conditions, and environmental conditions.
The police make mistakes. They may not provide proper instructions or may interpret the test improperly. For example, an officer may count a person's slow walk as a clue for stopping while walking. Slow walking, however, is specifically identified by the NHTSA as not stopping, but it can be hard to determine what's slow and what's stopping. It all depends on the point of view or interpretation of the officer. Sometimes you can get body camera footage to show you actually did not "fail" the test. You may also be able to question the officer on the stand to show you did not show a clue when they say you did.
Research by the NHTSA has shown this test is not suitable for anyone who:
- is over the age of 65
- has back or leg problems
- has middle ear problems
But other health issues, whether physical or mental, can negatively affect a person's performance. Anxiety is a serious health condition. Sufferers of anxiety can experience an anxiety attack from the traffic stop alone, not to mention being asked to perform a divided attention test.
The NHTSA requires a certain environment for this test to be properly performed. Unfortunately, you do not get to choose where you are pulled over for a traffic stop. There is no guarantee the ground will be level and non-slippery or that enough room will be available to safely complete the test.
Further, other environmental conditions can cause distractions and disruptions, like:
- loud, heavy traffic
- weather conditions (rain, snow, cold, heat)
- glaring sun or no sun at all, making it difficult to see
Why These Problems Matter
These problems matter because if you failed the test, it can be used to influence a jury or judge that you were indeed impaired while operating a vehicle. It can also be used to put pressure on you to accept a plea deal when if you didn't have "failed" field sobriety tests, you could have gotten the charges dismissed (or may not have even been arrested in the first place).
Field sobriety tests are used to create probable cause. Probable cause is required for an arrest. When field sobriety tests are unreliable and probable cause is based on them, you suddenly face possible criminal charges that are not necessary. You could also face penalties for refusing a breath test after 'failed" field sobriety tests. The whole process can be emotionally exhausting, time-consuming, and costly.
Contact Our DUI Defense Attorneys in Rhode Island Today
Walk-and-turn tests are often unreliable and can be challenged. At The Law Office of David Ellison, our DUI defense lawyers will review the circumstances of your DUI event and challenge any results from field sobriety tests, breath tests, or blood tests. When appropriate, we will file motions to exclude the results from evidence. Contact us today by filling out the online form or calling us at 401-230-5520 to schedule a consultation.