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Drunk driving and the walk-and-turn test

A few weeks ago on the blog we discussed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and how law enforcement and prosecutors often rely on that field sobriety test to obtain arrests and convictions. Although they find this test to be critically important, it is not the only field sobriety test utilized by the police. Another method they use to test for signs of intoxication is the walk-and-turn test.

Here, a driver is asked to walk in a straight line, but only through a method by which he or she puts the heel of one foot to the toe of the other. The driver will be instructed to take nine of these steps in a straight line, then pivot and take another nine steps. The motorist is also informed to hold out his or her arms to the side during the entirety of the test, watch the steps as they are being taken and count out loud each step.

While performing this task, the law enforcement officer will be looking for signs of intoxication. This may include a lack of balance, failing to walk in a straight line, taking too many or too few steps and an inability to walk in a heel-to-toe fashion. Any number of these indications may give officers reason to arrest, and may provide powerful evidentiary ammunition to prosecutors who are looking to obtain a conviction.

Yet, the walk-and-turn test must be carried out according to certain standards. If instructions are unclear or are not provided in their entirety, then the results of the test must be unreliable. Additionally, a driver may have a medical condition that causes him or her to lose balance or fail to walk heel-to-toe. If officers fail to take this into consideration, then the subject of the test may seem intoxicated when he or she isn't. This means that failing a field sobriety test is not the same as being convicted of drunk driving. Instead, those who are accused of drunk driving need to carefully consider their legal options, as strong defense strategies may be available to them.

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