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Walk-and-Turn

Interviewer: The next one you were talking about was the walk-and-turn.

Ron Mondello: Right. This particular test, as many of the tests are, they’re two-pronged. What the police officer is trying to do is to see whether you can listen to instructions and perform tests. Most people can’t do both of those at the same time. They either listen or they perform the tests.

In The Walk and Turn Test, The Police Officer Will Have You Stand in a Heel to Toe Stance

With this particular walk-and-turn test, the procedure is that the police officer will have you stand in what’s known as a heel-to-toe stance, and that right there is performing the test. You’re starting to perform the test already by standing there in a heel-to-toe stance. That, in and of itself, is not always easy, especially for the classes of people we just spoke about – someone that’s extremely overweight, somebody that is very tired, or the elderly.

You start off with the heel-to-toe stance and then some verbal instructions start. This is the way the verbal instructions go. The first one is, “Place your left foot on the line.” The police officer is supposed to demonstrate that. “Place your left foot on the line,” and he demonstrates it. Then you place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot with the heel of the right foot against the toe of the left foot.

This is not simple. That’s why I’ve indicated that some folks that are not impaired can’t do this. But he’s supposed to demonstrate this. The next thing is to place your arms down at your side. Fair enough. He demonstrates that. Then he’ll say, “Maintain this position until I’ve completed the instructions.” All right? You’re in that stance, and it is hard to listen in that stance.

One of the things he’s going to tell you is, “Do not start to walk until I tell you to do so.” If you start to walk, there’s a clue. Then he’s going to ask, “Do you understand the instructions so far?” Because they want to make sure you understand it and they want a response.

In the Walk and Turn Test: The Police Officer Looks For Comprehension of Verbal Instructions

Then they go into the next part of the test, which is another instruction using verbal instructions, and it’s also accompanied by demonstrations. He’ll say to you, “When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back,” and he’ll demonstrate it, and it’s typically three or four. He’ll do three or four for you. He’s not going to do the nine.

The next instruction is, “When you turn, keep the front foot on the line and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot like this,” and again he demonstrates. Next instruction: “While you’re walking, keep your arms at your side, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud.”

Does it sound like this is getting a little tough?

Interviewer: Yes, it does.

Ron Mondello: The next one is, “Once you start walking, don’t stop until you’ve completed the test.” Then finally he’s going to ask you, “Do you understand the instructions?” And you’ve got to respond yes or no. Then he’ll say, “Begin and count your first step from heel-to-toe position as number one.”

Not easy. What is the police officer looking for in the walk-a-straight-line or walk-and-turn tests? Well, the police officer is looking to observe a number of different behaviors when a suspect or eventual defendant is performing this test.

An Impaired Person Cannot Keep His Balance While Listening To Instructions

Here are some of those behaviors that he’s looking for: the first one is you can’t keep your balance while listening to the instructions. Remember, you’re in that stance with one foot in front of the other and you’re listening, and two tasks are required at the beginning of this test, and the defendant must balance heel-to-toe on the line and at the same time listen carefully to the police officer’s instructions.

This is scientific research. Typically, the person who is impaired can only do one of those things. We mentioned this before. The defendant may be able to listen to the instructions but he can’t keep his balance. If that happens, the police officer will record this clue if you don’t maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions.

The feet must actually break apart. We’re not talking about swaying and we’re not talking about using your arms to balance. You actually have to have your feet come apart, not maintain the heel-to-toe position.

What’s another clue that the police officer is looking for? Well, you start before the instructions are finished. It is not unusual that an impaired person may also keep balance but not listen to the instructions. If you’re really focused on keeping that stance, you’re going to start before the instructions are over.

This is another one that if in fact the suspect doesn’t wait and does start walking, the police officer will record this as another clue. Another clue is stopping while walking.

Police Officers Look For the Subject to Stop or Pause During the Test

They’re looking for the defendant or the suspect to stop and pause for a couple seconds. We’re not talking about you walking very slowly. We’re actually speaking about you stopping for a couple of seconds to maintain your balance, or figure out how you’re going to place your left foot in front of your right foot, or whatever. It’s not really walking slowly.

The next one is if the defendant does not touch heel to toe. This is where the police officer has some discretion, but the defendant is not supposed to leave a space of more than one half inch between the heel and the toe on any step.

Then there are actually four more clues that they focus on. One is if you step off the line. Pretty simple, right? One foot has to be entirely off the line. Another clue is, if you use your arms to balance. The defendant raises either one or both of his arms and it’s got to be more than six inches from the side, not just a couple inches.

Another clue is an improper turn, and this is where the defendant would move the front foot from the line while turning. The police officer would record this clue if you haven’t followed the directions as demonstrated. In other words, maybe you spin or you do a pivot. That would be recorded as a clue.

Then finally, the easiest one would be if you’ve taken the wrong number of steps – either more or less than nine in either direction. The police officer would note this.

The other thing is, if a potential defendant can’t do the test, obviously the police officer is interested in everybody’s safety, including his own, and he’s not going to have somebody perform the walk-and-turn if you can’t do the test.

The police officer is supposed to observe from what they would consider to be a safe distance. They’re not supposed to be right on top of you, but if two or more of these clues are recorded, the police officer will classify that you probably have a BAC level above 0.08. It’s a fairly accurate test.

Now, there has to be some decent test conditions. There’s got to be a designated straight line, and even if it’s an imaginary, there’s got to be some room for a straight line. That would require a reasonably dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface.

You Have to Walk an Invisible Line

Interviewer: If there’s an invisible line, what dictates that?

Ron Mondello: Well, good question. The police officer is not going to fail you if you veer off to the left and off to the right because there really isn’t a line. He’s not going to draw a line for you, but he’s going to ask you to walk straight ahead. Obviously, if you make a left- or right-hand turn six feet deep, that’s a problem. Certainly if you go a foot in either direction, because there isn’t a designated straight line, that’s not going to be a problem.

Again, individuals over 65 years of age have problems. If you have back, leg, or inner ear problems you’d have trouble. Women that are wearing heels more than two inches should be given an opportunity to remove their shoes.

Interviewer: When you say “should,” does that mean it’s always going to happen?

Ron Mondello: It’s a great question. In every single case that I’ve had where it’s been a female defendant and she has been in something other than sneakers, the police officer asks, “Do you want to take your shoes off?” because some women can do the test with the heels on, and others can’t.

By Ronald P. Mondello