Officer Makes Mistake Giving Field Sobriety Test
June 8, 2015
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August 6, 2015


This is one of the DWI balance tests used in the standardized field sobriety tests.  It has two stages: the instruction stage and the walking stage. During both stages, the officer is looking for specific “clues” of intoxication. If the officer believes he sees two or more clues, at any time during the test, you will fail the test and be arrested for DWI.


The officer will instruct you to:

  • Stand with your right foot in front of your left foot in a heel touching toe stance;
  • Place your arms down at your sides;
  • Listen to all the instructions; and
  • Remain in this position until instructed to begin;

He will then give you following instructions for the test, demonstrating parts of the test while he talks:

  • Take nine heel to toe steps down the line, turn and take nine heel to toe steps back;
  • When you turn you must keep the front foot on the line and turn by taking a series of small steps around the lead foot;
  • While you are walking you must keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet and count out loud; and
  • One you start, don’t stop until you have completed the test.

Problem: You Don’t Know You Are Already Being Graded

What most people do not know is that, even though this is the instruction stage, you are already being graded.  The test has already begun and the officer is already looking for two specific mistakes:

  • If you loose your balance, even slightly, and your feet do not maintain the heel touching toe position;
  • If you begin the test before the officer tells you may begin, even if he has finished the instructions.

Either of these mistakes would be considered a clue. If you do them both, just once, you have failed the test even if you do everything else perfectly. To make things worse, you have been told to keep your arms at your side – which makes balancing even more difficult.


During the walking stage, the officer is looking for 6 clues:

  • Stopping while you are walking;
  • Failing to touch heel to toe (missing by more than ½ inch on any step);
  • Stepping off the line;
  • Using arms for balance (more than six inches from your side);
  • Taking the incorrect number of steps.
  • Turning improperly;

If you do any of these things, even one time, it will be considered a clue. So suppose you missed your heel to toe one time and you raised your arms one time for balance for a split second, you have just failed the test.

Problem: Unfair Grading Scale

When you calculate all the possible mistakes for each phase of the test, you see how unfair this test really is:

  • 5 possible walking clues per step X 18 steps = 90
  • Improper turning clue +1
  • Instruction stage clues +2
  • Total = 93

There are at least 93 possible times you could make a mistake on this test. But you fail if you have two small clues. Scoring a 91 out of 93 will get you arrested for DWI in San Antonio, Texas.  That’s not a fair grading scale.

When defending people accused of DWI, it is important to demonstrate to the jury just how unfair the walk and turn test really is.  If you have questions about your performance on the standardized field sobriety tests, feel free to call me. I help people facing DWI charges every day.