The WAT is the second of three tests in the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery (SFSTs) developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is what my clients typically refer to as the “walking in a line test.” According to NHTSA, the officer is supposed to instruct the DUI suspect to stand still, arms at his side, and not to move until instructed to do so. The officer will then demonstrate three of the nine steps the driver is supposed to take, and then demonstrate “a proper turn consisting of a series of small steps,” followed by three steps back. The driver is supposed to take nine steps during the actual test. The steps are supposed to be heel to toe and along a real or imagined line. It seems simple enough, but it is very hard for even sober people to do properly.
The officer is looking for a lot of things that he can score as “clues of impairment.” The problem is that the DUI suspect doesn’t know what he is being graded on. For example, if you break your feet apart while the officer is giving instructions, that counts against you. If you lift your hands while you are walking, that counts against you. If you make that ridiculously hard turn in an improper manner, that counts against you. It is impossible to know if you passed unless you know how the test is scored. This is why I said in the last blog entry, this isn’t like a math test – you don’t know how you are doing while taking the test.
It is for these reasons that when I hear the statement “I did fine on the walking test, but the officer said I failed,” things get complicated. However, things may not be as bad as they seem. While you may not know what counts against you while taking the test, the officer may be just as clueless. I have seen many officers who, on the stand at trial, say they know how to score the standardized field sobriety tests only to admit they were mistaken when I confront them with their own training manual.
During a trial, an officer may testify that you were swaying during the instructional phase of the Walk and Turn Test. When asked on cross examination if you broke your feet apart more than a half-inch, the officer may say that you did not. It is because he doesn’t know that the SFST manual tells him that is only a clue of impairment if the DUI suspect sways during the instructional phase AND breaks his or her feet apart more than a half-inch. An experienced DUI lawyer will have the officer’s training manual ready at trial and may be more familiar with it than the officer.
In the next part of this post, I will discuss the One Legged Stand (OLS), which is the third part of the SFSTs.