Understanding the Walk and Turn Test – Standardized Field Sobriety Test

The walk and turn test is one of the three standardized field sobriety tests police officers use in DWI investigations.  The officer It is a divided attention test that is designed to develop probable cause for a DWI arrest.

What Does It Entail

The walk and turn test evaluates the subject in two phases.  First, the officer provides the instructions to determine whether the subject can balance while standing with their feet heel to toe.  By giving the person an instruction task and a balancing task, officers believe the officer can obtain information about intoxication.  Secondly, the person performs the walking stage.  The walking stage, the person takes nine heel to toe steps, turn in a very specific way, and take nine heel to toe steps back.  This stage divides the subject’s attention between balancing, counting out loud, and recalling the instructions.

What are the clues?

After the DWI stop, a person will be given the DWI SFSTs. In the walk and turn test, the officer looks for eight clues:

The person:

  1. can’t balance during instructions;
  2. starts before the instructions too soon;
  3. stops while walking;
  4. misses heel to toe by more than half an inch;
  5. steps off the imaginary line;
  6. uses his or her arms to balance;
  7. turns improperly;
  8. takes the wrong number of steps.

How many clues does an officer need to observe?

The officer only needs to observe two of the clues for the person to fail the test.

Is failing the test the end of it?

The officer has to determine whether he or she has probable cause for an arrest.  This test is only part of that.  Failing this test alone won’t create probable cause to suspect DWI in most cases.  However, the other observations an officer makes may create probable cause for arrest.

Failing this test does not mean that jurors will necessary put any weight on it.

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