Updated: May 31
The Walk and Turn, or, WAT, standardized field sobriety test is purportedly a nationally standardized field sobriety test (SFST) that law enforcement officers are trained to conduct on subjects suspected of impairment. It typically comes after the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and is considered not only a physical agility test but also a so-called "divided attention" test.
A test subject must stand in a heel-to-toe position to begin, listen carefully to instructions, and observe the test administrator's demonstration of the test. This is considered the instruction phase of the WAT. In the walking stage, the test subject must take nine steps, while counting out loud, "one one thousand two one thousand" and so forth until they reach nine steps, take a series of small steps to face the opposite direction, and take an additional nine steps.
The theory of the test is that it divides the test subjects attention among listening, comprehending, and the physical agility necessary to complete the task, e.g., balancing.
Test administrators look for false starts-- beginning too soon during the instruction phase (a game of Simon Says for some administrators who are not clear in their instructions regarding the demonstration of the test by the officer), arms at one's side, failing to maintain a heel-to-toe position, stepping off the line, incorrect number of steps, improper turn, using arms to balance, and stopping during the test.
A so-called decision point is two or more "clues" because test subjects who showed two or more signs of intoxication, or, clues, in NHTSA studies correlated to intoxication over .10 grams per 210 L breath. However, officers look for all eight of the "clues" above. In fairness, defense attorneys point to the fact that there are far more opportunities to "fail" the test. For example, since there is an instruction phase plus 18 steps and a turn, the test arguably includes 19 or more opportunities for failure. To suggest that two "points" or "clues" is a decision point in such a test is an exceedingly high standard perhaps only an Olympic gymnast could meet. In short, it is an incredibly subjective test nearly arguably designed to produce failure in test subjects.
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