If you are stopped by the police and the officer suspects you may have been Driving Under the Influence of alcohol, you may be asked to person any number of field sobriety tests. The One Leg Stand Test (OLS) test is one of only three standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) used by law enforcement as a part of their investigation whether a driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests are supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
What is the One Leg Stand Test?
The One Leg Stand test is field sobriety test to measure balance. The subject is to raise one leg approximately six inches off the ground with both legs straight, and while holding that position, count out loud until told to stop.
What are the police looking for?
Police officers are taught to administer the One Leg Stand test while checking for certain specific factors. Police will watch how the driver performs, look for specific clues, and note their observations. This includes:
Swaying while balancing;
Using arms for balance;
Hopping on one foot; and,
Putting their lifted foot down.
Basis for One Leg Stand Tests
Alcohol affects the motor control systems in the body, and can reduce coordination, and slow reflex and response times. According to NHTSA, the One Leg Stand test may indicate some degree of impairment. However, others find the One Leg Stand test to be the least reliable of the SFSTs.
The One Leg Stand test is known as a “divided attention” test, requiring the subject to divide their attention to mental and physical tasks at the same time. This requires listening to the instructions, remembering them, and count according to the directions while maintaining balance on one leg.
How Police are Trained
NHTSA has noted the importance of proper, standardized training in SFSTs in order to ensure the accuracy of the test. Formal training in SFSTs was introduced to teach police how to more accurately detect impaired drivers. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) handles the administration and accreditation of training programs. However, just because an officer was properly trained in SFSTs, does not mean that they correctly administered or observed the test.
SFST training, including administering the One Leg Stand test, is highly specific and specialized. Some attorneys specializing in DUI defense have taken these same training courses in order to place themselves in a better position to question, cross-examine, and analyze a police officer's SFST findings.
Proper Administration of the One Leg Stand Test
Police officers are trained in administration of the standardized tests, and many of these officers end up conducting hundreds of SFSTs. However, it may have been some time since their initial training or refresher training. As a result, they may not always give the standardized instructions, or they may incorrectly administer the test. If police suspect a person to already be intoxicated, they may not accurately observe the individual completing the test. This information may be used by an experienced, skilled DUI defense attorney in court.
The officer should instruct the subject to stand with their heels together, and arms to the side, and not to begin until told to do so. The officer will demonstrate the test first, telling the subject to raise one leg, approximately six inches off the ground, foot pointed out, and keep both legs straight and eyes on the lifted foot. Holding that position, the subject is to count out loud: “one thousand and one, one thousand and two”, etc, until told to stop. The officer observes for approximately 30 seconds, then ends the test, marking their observations. Before the subject begins, they are required to ask if there are any questions.
Do I have to do the One Leg Stand Test?
You can refuse to take the One Leg Stand test, as well as all field sobriety tests. However, this does not mean that you will not be arrested. The SFSTs are used as investigative tools. If you refuse the test, but the officer still believes you are impaired, you will likely be arrested and taken to the police station where they will conduct a either a breath or a blood test to determine the level of alcohol in your system.
Limitations of the One Leg Stand Test
Although most people are physically able to complete the One Leg Stand test, many with certain medical or physical limitations will find it difficult. For some, taking part in the One Leg Stand can be painful, or even impossible. Additionally, environmental factors may affect the ability to properly complete the test.
Getting pulled over and asked to perform DUI tests will make anyone feel nervous and frightened. Anxiety and nervousness can physically manifest in the body as weakness, faintness, shaking, or other characteristics. An officer may observe these reactions as evidence of alcohol or drug use, even if the driver is completely sober.
Obesity can physically limit one's movement and abilities to easily balance on one foot. Similarly, any physical condition affecting balance, such as back pain, ear problems, or advanced age will affect the test. Footwear and surface conditions can make it more difficult to easily complete the walk and turn test. The darkness at night, flashing police lights, and passing headlights can make it more difficult to balance.
Defenses to the One Leg Stand Test
While NHTSA may claim how accurate the One Leg Stand test is, it is the subject of great debate. Many medical experts disagree on the accuracy and reliability of the OLS test. Additionally, it is a police officer performing the test, with only a few days of training who is trying to diagnose the level of alcohol impairment rather than a medical professional. A lawyer specializing in DUI defense will be able to identify the best defenses to use, to get DUI charges reduced or dropped.
Experienced DUI Attorney Representation:
If you are arrested for a DUI in Oakland, Fremont, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, or Livermore; Walnut Creek, Danville, Albany, Concord or anywhere in Alameda County or Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local drunk driving and DUI laws, and how police gather evidence during traffic stops. She is trained in all field sobriety testing, including the OLS test. She knows the local prosecutors, judges, and officers involved. With over 30 years of DUI experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and the science required to fight driving under the influence, and other alcohol charges.