Breaking Down the Walk and Turn

The walk and turn test is one of three standardized field sobriety tests police officers in South Carolina are trained in as part of a program devised by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The walk and turn test is administered by police to motorists who are suspected of being impaired. No driver ever has to talk any field sobriety test in South Carolina, including the walk and turn.

The test begins with the officer providing instructions. This will start out with having the suspect get into the correct position. This will be placing both feet on a real or imaginary line and keeping arms at the sides. The officer will then instruct them to remain still until instructions are completed. This is actually part of the test, and it is a divided attention test. The suspect is asked to remain balanced on the line, while listening to instructions. If the suspect moves their feet this is counted against them as evidence of DUI.

The next step is that the officer should demonstrate how the test is administered. This should be by taking three heel-to-toe steps (but asking the suspect to take nine themselves), then do a turn by making a series of small steps, and then heel-to-toe steps to the original starting point. The suspect is also instructed to count their steps out loud.

When part of the test is counted against the suspect it is called a "clue." The test is considered a "fail' if there are two or more clues present. Other clues include:

1) Starting the test before the officer specifically says to begin.

2) Stopping or pausing during the heel-to-toe walk.

3) Leaving a gap of more than ½ an inch in between the heel and toe during the walk.

4) Stepping off of the line.

5) Raising an arm up more than six inches from the side.

6) Removing a foot from the line when doing the turn.

7) Turning by using a "spinning" method.

8) Taking more or less than nine steps going in either direction.

The test demands absolutely strict compliance, or it will be counted as a failure and seen by the police as significant evidence of DUI. Many times we find our clients thought they did well on the test, only to be surprised that the officer counted multiple "clues" and used this test as the legal justification for a DUI arrest.

So how can this test be effectively challenged?

The best method is for someone to avoid taking it, or any other field sobriety test in the first place. Failure to take field sobriety tests in South Carolina is not evidence of DUI, and will not result in a driver's license suspension or any other criminal charges.

If the test has been administered it is important to ensure that the entire test was recorded on the police officer's video camera. If it was not, this can serve as grounds to dismiss the DUI in its entirety. You won't know if the officer did or did not do this required step until your lawyer files specific court motions requiring the officer to produce his records. At the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we make this request standard in all of our DUI cases.

The next challenge can be whether or not the person was even a good candidate physically for the test. People who have certain back, leg, ear or mobility problems are not good candidates. Women with high heels should also not take the test (although they can if allowed to take off the shoes first).

Finally in order to be valid the test requires that the test conditions, and instructions be given in strict accordance with the procedures set forth in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration manual. Most officers in South Carolina have been trained and certified based on standards established in 2006. Attorney James Snell has completed a two day course in DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing based on these standards, which mirrors training that police officers have gone through.

If a review of the video reveals that the officer did not give complete or accurate instructions, or improperly counted the number of clues or made up their own clues (all normal events), it can serve as justification for a court to suppress (throw out) the test. Many times we have found that police officers cut so many corners that legitimate reasons exist to challenge the instruction of the test. If the officer has based the probable cause or legal justification for a DUI arrest on failed field sobriety tests that weren't properly given in the first place, that can serve as a basis to completely dismiss a DUI charge.

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