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Alaska DUI Digest

Whose Line Is It Anyways?

Posted by John Roberson III | Jan 26, 2024 | 0 Comments

If you've been reading along, you know that Standardized Field Sobriety Tests consists of three tests the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. Let's chat a bit about the Walk and turn test today.  Having been a DUI lawyer, in Alaska for over a decade, I've seen many of my fellow Alaskans attempt this test. It might look or sound simple, but there's more to it than meets the eye. From the way the instructions are given to the conditions in which it's been performed, this test is a bag full of surprises.

Walk-and-Turn: Not as Easy as It Looks

Police officers often pull out the walk-and-turn test when they suspect DUI. It's a classic "can you chew gum and walk at the same time" kind of test. The officer asks the suspect to stand in the starting position while the test is demonstrated. Then the officer instructs the person to walk nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, take a series of small steps while pivoting one foot, and take a series of nine steps heel to toe back, keeping head straight, and hands down at the side. Sounds easy, right? It does?

Invariably the officer tells a suspect to "imagine straight a line." You'd think that's straightforward, but the line in your head can be anything from a tightrope to a highway lane. I seem to envision painted while football field lines. Maybe it's just NFL playoff time. But, the variability in what different people imagine as a "straight line" can really throw someone off and potentially mess with the test results.

Where the Test Trips Up

At first glance, the walk-and-turn might seem cut and dry, but it's soaked in subjectivity. How the officer sees your balance or counts your steps can make or break the case. I've had clients who, sober as judges but naturally clumsy, stumbled through the test. These personal quirks often get overlooked.

And let's not forget that here suspects are tasked with performing the tests on icy paths, lumpy terrain, and even wearing bulky winter coats or inadequate clothing all of which can make even a sober person look unsteady. This test wasn't exactly designed for Alaskan conditions. 

Miscommunication's another hiccup. Like a client who aced walking a straight line but missed the heel-to-toe detail because the officer didn't speak clearly, spoke too fast or didn't specify. It's these little things that can lead to big misunderstandings.

The Alaskan environment throws its own curveballs. Blistering cold or foggy nights can throw off anyone's game, whether they've had a drink or not. This makes you wonder how fair the walk-and-turn test really is in our state.

The Legal Side of Things

In court, this test gets thrown around a lot as evidence in DUI cases. But here's where we can turn the tables. By poking holes in how subjective the test is and how our Alaskan setting skews the results, you can start to see its reliability crumble.

I always pay close attention into how the test was given. Were the instructions as clear as day? Did the officer consider the suspect's physical shape or the fact that they were standing on a sheet of ice? Was the test conducted near a noisy road? Were there flashing lights? Was the test conducted on the side of an active roadway with traffic driving by and rubber neckers--well rubber necking. You can imagine how these situations can affect the outcome.

But, let's not forget, the walk-and-turn is just one piece of the puzzle. It's not the be-all and end-all of DUI evidence.

Wrapping Up

The walk-and-turn test, a staple in DUI stops, is far from foolproof. It's a mixed bag, influenced by personal traits, the officer's judgment, and our wild Alaskan environment. The test's instructions can be a real wild card, adding to its unreliability.

For anyone staring down a DUI charge, remember, these tests aren't the final word on your sobriety. They're up for legal debate. That's where a seasoned DUI attorney steps in, unpacking the subtleties of these tests to build a solid defense.

Just a heads-up, this blog's for sharing what I know, not for legal advice. Every DUI case is its own beast, and getting the right legal help is crucial to navigate these tricky waters.

About the Author

John Roberson III

10+ YEARS OF COMBINED CRIMINAL DEFENSE EXPERIENCE 35+ CRIMINAL JURY TRIALS 500+ CASES ANDCHARGES RESOLVED 18+ YEARSIN ALASKA Experienced & Aggressive Criminal Lawyer About Law Office of John H. Roberson III, LLC John brings diverse experience, dedication, and legal knowledge to each ca...


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