Articles on South Carolina Law

SC Field Sobriety Tests Part 2: The Walk and Turn Test

by | Aug 15, 2018 | Criminal Defense, DUI

It is very important to remember that you do not have to take a DUI Field Sobriety Test. This can be something you don’t even realize when you are trying to obey the commands of law enforcement. You want to be respectful and do what you are told, but did you know you don’t even have the take the tests? The less evidence you give the police to work with on a DUI, the better off your case will be.

It also may not be in your best interest to do so. The results of the test can be used against you in court if you are ultimately charged with Driving Under the Influence.

There are three main Field Sobriety Tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand. Part 1 of this series focuses on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test.

In this blog article, I will focus on the second of three of the standardized field sobriety tests — the Walk and Turn Test.

The “Walk and Turn” Field Sobriety Test

The Basics

The second type of field sobriety test commonly used is the “walk and turn.” The test may seem fairly simple: walk some steps, turn around, and walk some steps back. During this test, you are instructed to stand with one of your feet in front of the other, touching heel to toe, and hold that position with your arms by your sides until the officer finishes his/her instructions.

Huh? Who ever stands around like that? Not a natural way for anyone to stand!

As part of the test, you stand in that position until the officer explains all of the instructions for this test. If you move out of this position while the test is being explained, it can count against you (police consider this a “clue” as to impairment).

The officer should then show you exactly how to do the test. The officer should take 9 heel to toe steps. During this time, the heel of one foot should touch the toe of the other foot. This type of walking and turning is not natural to most people. Rarely do I see people out in public walking heel to toe. Yet, in this “audition for your life and future” you are asked by the police to perform this unnatural walk. Oh and while you are walking, count each one of your steps out loud until you get to nine… something else you just don’t do on a daily basis.

You get no practice runs, you have to do it right the first time, while on video camera, often on the side of the road where passing cars can see you and other officers are standing around gawking. Yes, it is not your finest hour. But, you are expected to perform in a particular way to pass these tests. And if you don’t, you have everything to lose with a DUI conviction!

The turn portion of the Walk and Turn can be very tricky, even to the most sober minded person. When you turn, you keep one foot on “the line” and use the other foot to do a series of small steps. The “turn” isn’t a pivot; it’s a series of small steps with one foot while your other foot is planted. Sound tricky while you are reading this? Try doing it in real life with a very judgemental audience of law enforcement officers at night with a spotlight shining on you!

Potential Problems With The Walk and Turn

The test is a difficult one. So what can go wrong? A lot of things! Here are a few I have encountered in my years handling these cases:

  • Did you have an imaginary line or an actual line to go by? Did the officer use the white line on the side of the road or a parking lot as a go by? Some officers have tape in their cruisers for this test. If that was used, was the tape long enough to perform the test? Was the tape placed on a clean, level surface? Did the tape blend in with the place it was taped to? Was the tape taped on straight or was it crooked?
  • Did you understand the instructions given to you by the law enforcement officer? If not, did the officer give you an opportunity to ask questions? If so, did the officer answer your questions?
  • Did the officer give you enough room to perform the test? If you are too close to the police cruiser, you will inevitably run out of steps to count to 10. This does not mean you are impaired. It means you ran out of room to take the test and that is not necessarily your fault.
  • What were the weather conditions? Was it pouring down rain? Super windy? Were you cold? Was the surface icy or slippery?
  • Is your entire body, particularly your feet visible during the video recording of this test? It is required by SC law.
  • Does the officer ask you whether you have any prior health problems that would prevent you from performing this test correctly? The knee jerk answer to this question, for some reason seems to be an overwhelming “no.” But if you have ever had knee surgery, arthritis, had a broken leg, foot, toe or ankle you may not be considering how this could affect this test.
  • There are also other problems that could affect balance such as vertigo. Vertigo can be caused by an airbag deploying during a car accident. A previous brain injury is another reason your balance can be off. These types of conditions can cause you to “fail” a field sobriety test.

Some of the clues police search for are:

  • Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
  • Starts before the instructions are finished
  • Stops while walking
  • Does not touch heel to toe
  • Steps off the line
  • Doesn’t count steps out loud
  • Counts more or less than 10 steps
  • Using arms for balance while walking

The Walk and Turn test is much more complex than it sounds. No one walks literally heel to toe on a daily basis; yet, you are expected to perform this task, while counting out loud, on the side of the road, on camera. You are auditioning for your future and it only takes a couple of seconds to fail the tests, even if you are sober.

Asked to perform a DUI Field Test and fail?

If you have been pulled over for DUI in South Carolina and were asked to perform a field sobriety test chances are you need a criminal attorney’s help.

DUI’s can bring some serious penalties and majorly derail your life. A conviction can affect your freedom, finances, current and future employment, family life, education opportunities, and much more.

Once you are convicted of DUI, there is no way of getting a DUI conviction expunged from your criminal record.

Do you have questions about the Field Sobriety Tests and your DUI? Call Susan E. Williams today to see if she can assist you with your DUI defense. You can contact me today to discuss your case. Call 843-607-9800 now to speak to me.

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