When it comes to public perception of drunk driving cases in Michigan, most people imagine the accused performing the walk and turn on the side of the road. The walk and turn has become so well known, because it’s used in the media as a way to show someone pulled over and under investigation, and that perception is reality in Michigan; the walk and turn is a major part of an officer’s toolbox for a DUI investigation.
Like the other field sobriety tests, this test must be properly administered and has two different parts; proper instructions to the participant and the performance stage. Here are the instructions which must be provided to the participant in order for the test to be properly conducted, and all of them must actually be demonstrated by the officer to the participant.
#1 - Place your left foot on the line (the officer must demonstrate this) #2 - Place your right foot in front of your left foot, with the heel of your right foot against the toe of your left foot #3- Keep your arms down at your sides #4 - Only begin when told to do so
The officer will then ask the participant if they understand the instructions. The participant must say YES, if not, the officer must clarify anything asked by the participant.
If the participant says YES, then the officer will instruct the participant to walk nine steps heel to toe forward, turn while keeping your lead foot on the line, and take several small steps with the other foot before walking back nine heel to toe steps. Along with these instructions the officer must demonstrate it for the participant. Along with these steps, the participant must look at their feet, keep their arms down at their sides and count while walking.
Frankly this is a lot to remember and a stressful situation for the participant. Despite the odds against the participant to perform this accurately, the NHTSA tells the officer to look for 8 clues for intoxication and/or impairment. If you show 2 signs, you fail the test according to their rule book. Here are the 8 clues:
Can’t balance during instructions, starts too soon, stops while walking, fails to touch heel to toe, stepping off the line, uses arms for balance, improper turn and wrong number of steps.
If the participant can’t perform the test, then you fail all 8 parts. When I evaluate a field sobriety test as part of a DUI Case, I am looking for an officer who gives incorrect instructions, doesn’t demonstrate the test and orders the wrong amount of steps. We’re also looking for what the NHTSA manual calls proper conditions.
If the officer doesn’t do his job properly then the test results lose credibility, and I would use to paint doubt on the prosecution’s entire case. If there’s one crack, one error, one point of unfairness to my client then the whole case likely has issues.