Walk and Turn – A Field Sobriety Test in New Jersey
Summary: Police use the walk and turn test as a field sobriety test for drivers stopped for DUI in New Jersey. You can challenge the results of this test by working with a DWI defense attorney.
If you’ve been pulled over in New Jersey because you were suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI), the police may administer field sobriety tests on the side of the road in an attempt to determine probable cause for a drunk driving arrest. Police in New Jersey are allowed to use both the standardized field sobriety tests certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and non-standardized tests, despite the lack of certification or accuracy of some of these tests.
One of the three standardized field sobriety tests used in New Jersey is the walk-and-turn test. Like other such tests, it is meant to assess a driver’s mental and physical acuity and whether one or both have been lessened due to intoxication. However, in many cases, these tests not only fail to detect whether someone is truly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but they can also confuse physical illnesses or disabilities for signs of intoxication.
How the Walk-and-Turn Test Works
The walk-and-turn test is based on the concept of “divided attention.” It requires you to concentrate on two tasks at the same time, following instructions and performing physical movements simultaneously. While people who are intoxicated may have difficulty multitasking, the same can be true of people who are not. In addition, even if the driver performs relatively well on the test, the prosecutor may still argue that the results are proof of some level of intoxication.
The police will tell the driver to stand heel to toe and arms down as he or she listens to the instructions. Next, the police will tell the driver to take nine steps forward along an actual or imaginary line, turn back toward the police and then take nine heel-to-toe steps forward in the opposite direction, returning to the original location.
Police are told to watch for eight clues or signs of intoxication during the test:
- Inability to balance during the instructions
- Beginning the test too quickly
- Inability to touch heel to toe
- Stepping off of the real or imaginary line
- Stopping while walking
- Relying on arms for balance
- Failing to turn correctly
- Taking the wrong number of steps
- Passing or Failing the Walk-and-Turn Test
If two or more of these clues or indications of intoxication are present, a police officer will determine that the driver has a 68 percent chance of having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher. This means that the driver is above the legal limit in New Jersey and can be arrested on suspicion of DWI.
However, there are many reasons why a driver might “fail” this test without being intoxicated. First, the test is contraindicated for certain types of drivers, such as people aged 65 or older, those with back or leg injuries or those with disorders of the inner ear. Women wearing high heels of over 2 inches will also have a disadvantage during the test.
These aren’t the only issues that people may have with the walk-and-turn test. People who have disabilities, are overweight or are ill may be unable to complete the test properly. Some people, like those with hypoglycemia or vertigo, may have problems with balance on a regular basis. You might also be dealing with rain, snow, high winds, excessive heat or intense cold, all of which can make the test more difficult, especially if the ground is uneven or slippery.
Challenging a Field Sobriety Test in New Jersey
Police frequently conduct the test improperly, in inappropriate circumstances or without correct instructions. This can invalidate the test’s results. A New Jersey DWI lawyer with strong experience in defending against drunk driving charges can help you challenge police and prosecution assertions based on a field sobriety test you took.
Prosecutors are required to prove DWI charges beyond a reasonable doubt. By working with a skilled DUI defense attorney, you can contest the evidence based on your performance in the walk-and-turn test and fight to avoid a conviction. Contact DUI attorney Denis F. Driscoll today to make an appointment for a consultation.