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Attacking the DUI walk-the-line test

The walk-the-line test must be given correctly

Most people are familiar with the concept of the walk-the-line test because it has become part of American DUI folklore.

The test seems relatively straightforward: walk on a line. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has prescribed standards for the walk-the-line field sobriety test, and it is not always administered in the manner required.

If the police officer claims that you have “failed” the walk-the-line test then your attorney may attempt to raise a reasonable doubt about this result.

Sample cross-examination of arresting DUI officer about the walk-the-line test

The following is a sample cross-examination of an officer about the one-leg stand test:

Q: The first thing you had [the defendant] do is put her left foot on the line?
A: Yes.

Q: And then you had her put her right foot on the line?
A: Yes.

Q: You told her to put her arms at her side?
A: Yes, and to maintain this position until I tell her to begin walking.

Q: She has to stay in this position?
A: Yes.

Q: How long did you keep her standing in this position?
[The officer is apt to give an answer that minimizes the amount of time he required the person to stay in this position. However, the time period the subject is in this discomforted position is also the time period the officer is allotted to give the instructions for the test. A short time in the uncomfortable stance means the instructions were brief.]
A: I kept her there for only about 5 to 10 seconds.

Q: And this was the time period during which you gave her the instructions for the rest of the exercise?
A: Yes.

Q: Did she keep her feet in the correct position while you gave her the instructions?
A: Yes.

Q: She maintained her hands at her side?
A: She did.

Q: Other instructions for the exercise required her take to nine heel-to-toe steps down the line, then rotate around and take nine steps back up the line?
A: That is correct.

Q: When she turns around she has to keep her front foot on the line and turn around by using a series of small steps to get around?
A: Yes.

Q: Does she get to take notes like the jurors are doing when she is being given the instructions?
A: No.

Q: She was cooperative with you?
A: She was cooperative with me during my entire investigation.

Q: There are still more instructions for this exercise aren’t there?
A: Yes, there are more instructions.

Q: Please tell the jury the remaining instructions.
A: I told her to keep her arms at her sides, to watch her feet at all times, and once she started walking not to stop.

Q: Those were the entire instructions?
A: Yes.

Q: Didn’t you give her even more instructions during the 5 to 10 seconds that you were briefing her on the instructions.
A: Not that I recall.

Q: You also told her to count out loud for each step she took?
A: Oh, yes that’s correct.

Q: And she didn’t forget to do that during the test did she?
A: No she did that portion fine.

Q: The only thing she did not do correctly in your opinion is that on four occasions she stepped off of the line a couple of inches, in three instances she did not touch her heel to toe, and once she raised her hands up?
A: That’s correct.

Q: What score did she get on this exercise?
A: I don’t score them.

Q: This line that you had her walk is it an actual line, or an invisible line?
A: It is an imaginary line.

Q: How long is the imaginary line?
A: It’s not determined.

Q: Well, how wide is the imaginary line?
A: I couldn’t say.

Q: Well you could say that the imaginary line was sloped?
A: The area was level.

Q: Officer, I want to show you a photo that has been marked for identification as Defendant’s Exhibit “A.” Do you recognize what is depicted in the photo?
A: Yes. It is the location where the defendant performed the field sobriety tests.

Q: In the photo you can see that the sidewalk slopes downhill towards where the mall is located?
A: Yes, but slightly.

Q: The sidewalk also slopes in a different direction toward the street too, doesn’t it?
A: Somewhat.

Q: Did you give the defendant a chance to practice the walk the line exercise?
A: No.

Q: Basically, as I understand it, you gave her 10 to 15 seconds of instructions, and then with no practice permitted, she had to walk on an imaginary line of an unknown width?
A: That is what the test requires.

Q: Well, that sounds more like a pop quiz than a test doesn’t it officer?
A: It’s how I do it.

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Drunk Driving Library

Trial strategy
Client Testimony
Cross-examination of the arresting officer on field sobriety tests
Closing Arguments
Frequently Asked Questions
Trial Strategy
Client Testimony
Cross-Examination of the Arresting Officer on Field Sobriety Tests
Closing Arguments
Frequently Asked Questions