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Grant M. Scheiner - Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Walk and Turn Test in DWI and DUI Investigations

If you are stopped and investigated for DWI or DUI in Houston or anywhere in Texas, most law enforcement officers will attempt to administer Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) as a part of their investigation. Criminal defense attorneys with experience in DUI or DWI cases know that these tests consist of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (“HGN”), the one-leg stand, and the walk-and-turn.  Although police officers sometimes administer additional tests, these three tests are the only “standardized” tests recognized by the National Highway Transportation  Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). In Houston and all over Texas, police officers are trained to conduct DWI and DUI investigations based on the guidelines set out by NHTSA.

The walk-and-turn test is referred to by many as the “walk the line” test. In this test, a police officer will ask a DUI or DWI suspect to walk an imaginary or real line for nine steps, take a series of small steps, and then walk back. In DWI or DUI investigations, this test is used to assess a suspect’s motor control and ability to balance. Additionally, the test is used to assess a suspect’s ability to multi-task and follow directions (it is assumed that an intoxicated person cannot do these things). For example, at the beginning of the test, a police officer should instruct the suspect to stand on the line with his right foot in front of his left foot, and to maintain that position until the instructions are completed.

The test is scored based on how many “clues” a person exhibits. According to the NHTSA manual, a clue is an indication that a DWI or DUI suspect is intoxicated. On any of the three tests, if a suspect exhibits two clues, they are considered to have failed the test.

Criminal defense lawyers with experience in DWI and DUI cases know that this test is unreliable for several reasons. First of all, it is common for officers to not follow NHTSA’s guidelines in administering the test.  If a police officer does not explain the test properly, that may affect a suspect’s performance on the test, and undermine its reliability (which is already highly questionable).

Even when the test is administered correctly, criminal defense attorney know it can still be attacked as fundamentally flawed. This is because the test does not take into account a person’s “normal” physical state. In other words, it scores everyone the same regardless of age, weight, balance or coordination. As a result, a sober person could fail the test, and a drunk person could pass it (both of these things frequently happen).

If you are arrested for DWI, DUI or any alcohol-related charge, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with NHTSA guidelines. The attorneys at Scheiner Law Group are an excellent choice.