When you see those flashing lights in your rearview mirror and an officer signals you to pull over, your heart might skip a beat, especially if they suspect impairment and decide to conduct a sobriety test. Among the various methods employed by law enforcement to assess impairment, the walk and turn test is a very common DWI field sobriety test in North Carolina.
Its purpose? To evaluate an individual’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow directions—all critical faculties that can be compromised under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
This guide aims to delve into the specifics of the walk and turn sobriety test, shedding light on its administration, what law enforcement officers are on the lookout for, its implications in the broader context of DUI/DWI cases, and provide additional insights into how external factors and individual conditions can influence the test’s outcome.
What Is the Walk and Turn Sobriety Test?
The walk and turn sobriety test is a standardized field sobriety test widely used by police officers as a quick, on-the-spot assessment of an individual’s physical and cognitive faculties.
DWI defense lawyers may also refer to the test as the WAT, or “heel-to-toe” dexterity test – Bill Powers, Defense Lawyer
Designed to challenge the test taker in several ways, it tests their ability to complete tasks that are allegedly relatively easy to perform for someone who is sober.
The test requires a person to listen and follow instructions while performing physical movements that are unfamiliar or challenging to people who are not appreciably impaired.
The WAT test is part of the three tests that make up the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for use in DUI/DWI investigations.
It is considered a “divided attention” test, assessing a suspect’s ability to complete tasks that require their attention to be divided between mental and physical tasks.
The reliability of this test, according to NHTSA, hinges on its standardization, meaning that the instructions and scoring must be consistent across administrations to be considered valid evidence of impairment.
How Is the Walk and Turn Test Administered?
The administration of the walk and turn test follows a specific protocol:
|The officer explains the test instructions and demonstrates a few initial steps of the walking phase. The suspect must stand with their feet in a heel-to-toe position, keeping their arms at their sides, and listen to the instructions without beginning until told to do so.
|The suspect is asked to take nine steps along a straight line, touching heel-to-toe on each step, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. The officer closely observes the suspect’s performance.
Officers look for signs of impairment, such as the inability to balance during instructions, starting before instructions are finished, stopping while walking to regain balance, not touching heel-to-toe, stepping off the line, using arms to balance, making an improper turn, or taking an incorrect number of steps.
What Are Officers Looking for During the Test?
Officers are trained to identify eight specific indicators of impairment during the test.
These indicators, developed through research by the NHTSA, are critical in assessing whether a suspect’s faculties are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Each indicator is a piece of the puzzle that, when combined, helps an officer determine the likelihood of impairment – Bill Powers, DUI Lawyer
Common Challenges and Errors in the Walk and Turn Test
While the test is standardized, numerous factors can influence its outcome.
For example, nervousness, physical conditions, or environmental factors can all adversely affect a suspect’s performance.
Highlighting these challenges provides a fuller understanding of the test’s limitations and the importance of considering the entire context of a stop before making a determination of impairment.
External Factors Influencing the Test’s Outcome
- Weather Conditions: Adverse weather conditions can significantly impact a suspect’s ability to perform the test as instructed. Slippery conditions, uneven surfaces, or even strong winds can hinder balance and walking ability, potentially leading to false indicators of impairment.
- Footwear: The type of shoes a suspect is wearing can also affect their performance. For instance, high heels or shoes with poor traction can make it difficult to maintain balance or execute the heel-to-toe steps accurately.
- Medical Conditions: It’s crucial for law enforcement officers to inquire about any medical conditions that might affect a suspect’s ability to perform the test. Conditions such as inner ear disorders, leg injuries, or neurological conditions can impair balance and coordination, leading to poor performance on the test.
Legal Implications of Failing the Walk and Turn Test
The consequences of failing the walk and turn test can be significant, possibly serving as the basis for further testing and probable cause to arrest.
However, it’s important to understand that the walk and turn test is just one part of the evidence that can be used in a DUI/DWI case.
Other factors, such as the results of chemical tests, the circumstances of the stop, and the overall behavior of the suspect, will also play a critical role.
Controversies and Criticisms of the Walk and Turn Test
Despite its widespread use, the walk and turn test has faced criticism and controversy over its reliability and fairness.
Critics argue that the assessment of indicators can be highly subjective, depending on the officer’s judgment.
DWI defense lawyers regularly question whether the test’s accuracy in truly identifying impairment due to alcohol or drugs, and external factors unrelated to impairment can significantly affect performance, potentially leading to false positives.
FAQs: Common Questions About the Walk and Turn Test
- Q1: How accurate is the walk and turn test in detecting impairment? While considered a somewhat reliable indicator when administered correctly, its accuracy can be influenced by various factors such as physical condition, external environment, and officer interpretation.
- Q2: Can I refuse to take the walk and turn test? In North Carolina, you can refuse to take the walk and turn test without an automatic license suspension, but this might lead to further investigation.
- Q3: What should I do if I believe the test was unfairly administered? Consult with a legal professional experienced in DUI/DWI cases to assess any irregularities in the test’s administration that could be used in your defense.
Legal Definition and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits
In North Carolina, a DWI charge can arise not only from operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol but also from impairment due to drugs or an appreciable level of any substance that impairs mental or physical faculties. The state enforces strict Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits:
- For drivers 21 years and older, a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
- For commercial drivers, a lower limit of 0.04%.
- Zero tolerance for drivers under 21, meaning any alcohol presence is punishable. “Provisional Licensee” violations are subject to a speart NC Criminal Law – NCGS 20-138.3
Ignition Interlock Requirement
North Carolina mandates the installation of an ignition interlock device for all drivers convicted of DWI with a BAC of 0.15% or higher.
The “blow and go” device requires the driver to provide a breath sample free of alcohol before the vehicle can start.
The requirement period lasts for at least one year.
For drivers under 21, North Carolina enforces a zero-tolerance policy, making it illegal to drive with any alcohol in their system.
The penalties can include fines, community service, and license revocation, emphasizing the state’s stringent stance against underage drinking and driving.
Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing
North Carolina operates under the implied consent law, meaning drivers automatically consent to chemical testing (breath or blood tests and urine testing) if charged with DWI.
Refusing the test results in an immediate 30-day license revocation, followed by a 12-month revocation by the DMV, independent of the DWI charge outcome.
There may be legal options to challenge a Willful Refusal license revocation in North Carolina. Each case is unique. Consult legal counsel.
Legal Process and Representation
Navigating a DWI charge in North Carolina involves a complex legal process, starting with the arrest, pre-trial hearings, potential plea bargaining, and possibly a trial.
Given the intricacies of DWI laws and the severe potential consequences, seeking experienced legal representation is crucial.
A qualified attorney can provide guidance through the legal system, help challenge the evidence if applicable, and advocate for the best interests of the client, considering the circumstances.
Impact Beyond Legal Penalties
The repercussions of a DWI conviction in North Carolina extend beyond legal penalties.
Convicted individuals may face increased insurance rates, employment difficulties, and social stigma.
Additionally, the conviction can have lasting effects on personal relationships and future opportunities, underscoring the importance of responsible decision-making regarding alcohol and driving.
When is the best time to hire a DWI defense lawyer?
When facing a DWI (Driving While Impaired) charge, the timing of when to call a defense lawyer can significantly impact the outcome of your case.
It’s not just about having legal representation; it’s about securing someone who can navigate the complexities of DWI laws, protect your rights, and potentially mitigate the consequences you face.
Immediately After Arrest: The Crucial First Step
We think the best time to call a DWI defense lawyer is as soon as possible after your arrest.
In the immediate aftermath of being taken into custody, many critical legal processes begin to unfold.
You will be processed, and then there’s the matter of your license and the potential for a Limited Driving Privilege, as may be allowed under the NC DWI laws.
During the Investigation Phase: Gathering Evidence
The investigation phase of a DWI case involves collecting and examining evidence that could potentially be used by both the prosecution and/or defense.
This can include video footage from the arrest, witness statements, and the results of chemical tests.
This phase is also a time when your lawyer can identify any procedural errors or rights violations that could lead to evidence being deemed inadmissible in court.
Before Your First Court Appearance: Preparing Your Defense
Before your first court appearance, having a DWI defense lawyer can be invaluable.
This period is a critical time for developing a strategy tailored to the unique aspects of your case.
A lawyer with substantial experience handling DWI cases will review the evidence against you and the validity of a breathalyzer test, the administration of field sobriety tests, and the circumstances of your traffic stop.
The Sooner, The Better
It’s a good idea to call a DWI defense lawyer immediately following your arrest.
Early legal intervention is crucial for protecting your rights, preserving your driving privileges, and developing a defense strategy.
A DWI charge can have significant consequences on your life, including fines, license suspension, and even incarceration.
Having a knowledgeable DWI defense lawyer from the outset can help navigate the legal system, advocate on your behalf, and explain your legal rights and options.
Remember, in legal matters, time is often of the essence, and delaying the decision to seek professional legal assistance can limit your options and negatively impact the resolution of your case.
Bill Powers – DWI Defense Lawyer
The walk and turn sobriety test can be a crucial tool in DUI/DWI investigations.
It is designed to assess a suspect’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.
Understanding its administration, what officers are looking for, and potential challenges is essential if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are asked to perform this test.
Stay informed and prepared to protect your rights if you encounter this test during a traffic stop.
Helpful Information about DWI charges
- The psychology of Hit and Run
- Need to drive after DUI?
- Besides court, what happens if you’re convicted of DWI in NC?
- The Walk and Turn Test: Is it reliable?
- The NC DWI Law – Impairing Driving
- Restorative Justice and North Carolina DWI
- Important Changes to the Bond Rules in North Carolina
- What you need to know about Traffic Stops
- Was the stop valid?