When police pull anyone over to the side of the road in Portland, they are legally required to have probable cause to believe that a crime or traffic infraction has occurred. However, during the traffic stop, police officers frequently do whatever they can to find evidence of a more severe violation, including operating under the influence, or OUI.
One way police look for this evidence is through a field sobriety test, like the Walk and Turn.
Field Sobriety Tests in Maine
While police can use portable breathalyzers to search for evidence of an OUI crime in Maine, many still make use of field sobriety tests, as well. In Maine, police can only any indication of impairment in order to support probable cause for arrest but they primarily use field sobriety tests that have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These are:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test
- The One Leg Stand
- The Walk and Turn
All of these field sobriety tests are supposed to draw out the signs of alcohol impairment by forcing an OUI suspect to divide their attention between two different things. On their own, each task is easy, but the effects of alcohol often make it difficult for people to focus on multiple things at once.
Just like with breath tests, though, passing a field sobriety test does not mean that the police officer will let you go. However, failing a field sobriety test often ends with the officer making an arrest and bringing you to the precinct for a breath or blood test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC).
The Walk and Turn Test
In the Walk and Turn, the police officer will tell you to stand with your feet together, with your hands at your side, and not to do anything until they say you can begin. They will then ask you to take nine steps along a straight line. With each step, you are supposed to touch the heel of your foot to the toes of your last step. After taking the last step, you are supposed to turn on one foot and return to where you started, using the same heel-to-toe process.
The point of the Walk and Turn is to divide your attention between a complicated set of instructions and a relatively intricate coordination process.
While you perform the Walk and Turn, the police officer will be looking for the following signs of alcohol impairment:
- Keeping your balance while the officer is going through their set of instructions for the Walk and Turn
- Beginning the test before the officer says you can begin
- Stopping during the test in order to regain your balance
- Stepping off the line
- Using your arms to keep your balance during the test
- Not touching your heel to your toe with each of the nine steps
- Taking more or less than nine steps
- Losing your balance while turning on one foot to turn around
If the officer sees any two of these seven signs of impairment, they will say that you have failed the Walk and Turn and will likely make an arrest for OUI. Worse, the failure will be used against you in your subsequent OUI case and can be enough for a jury to convict you.
Why the Walk and Turn Can Be Inaccurate
Police claim that all field sobriety tests are accurate, including the Walk and Turn. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For starters, the Walk and Turn was approved by the NHTSA as an effective test for alcohol inebriation in 1981… When the legal BAC limit was 0.10%, not 0.08%. Even if the Walk and Turn used to be a good way to determine if someone was over the legal limit, it might not be, anymore.
But that's not all. Since the Walk and Turn has been used by police on OUI suspects, numerous studies have found that it is terrible at guessing whether someone is at or above the legal limit. In fact, the very studies that the NHTSA and law enforcement use to tout its accuracy have shown that the Walk and Turn is only accurate 68% of the time. And these studies were done on test subjects who were all fit young men in ideal testing situations.
Even if the Walk and Turn wasn't conceptually flawed, though, the practical aspects of administering the Walk and Turn are rife with problems:
- Older or less-coordinated people are far more likely to fail than younger and more agile OUI suspects
- Someone wearing sneakers is far more likely to pass than someone wearing flip-flops or high heels
- Anyone with a leg injury or who has innate problems with keeping their balance is almost guaranteed to fail
- Demanding that someone keep their balance with cars rushing past and the thought of a criminal conviction hanging over their head is certain to create lots of false positives
The Walk and Turn Can Also Be Manipulated to Create an OUI
While the Walk and Turn is inaccurate and difficult to administer in a legitimate way, police can also manipulate the Walk and Turn to create evidence that a suspect has committed an OUI.
One way police can create a false positive result out of the Walk and Turn is by mumbling or offering vague instructions about the process. Because one of the “signs of inebriation” is starting too soon, police can get halfway towards an arrest by providing inadequate instructions.
However, police can also coax a failure by making an OUI suspect perform the Walk and Turn on poor footing, where there is no line on the roadway to act as guidance, or in close proximity to rushing traffic. Any of these factors can stack the deck against someone suspected of OUI.
Portland OUI-Defense Lawyers at WTB Law
The OUI-defense lawyers at WTB Law strive to represent those who have been accused of OUI in Portland, Maine and the surrounding area. Contact them online or call their law office at 207) 571-8146 if you have been arrested and want to invoke your rights and protect your interests and your future.