If you’ve ever been pulled over under suspicion of DWI you’re likely familiar with the infamous one-leg stand test. Picture this: you’re on the side of the road and cars are barrelling by as you try to stay focused on keeping your arms and legs in the right position. The police officer is yelling that your raised foot is not parallel to the ground. Parallel to the ground? You set your foot down and ask for clarification, but you’ve already failed. 

Can unclear instructions lead to being charged with a DWI just like that? Unfortunately, they can. Do you have any recourse? Absolutely. You can call a DWI lawyer who understands the science behind sobriety tests and can explain how the law misuses them.

What is the one-leg stand test?

The one-leg stand is one of three standardized sobriety tests recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), along with the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the walk-and-turn test. These standardized sobriety tests are used by law enforcement agencies to establish intoxication while making DWI arrests. 

The one-leg stand test procedure consists of 13 steps. Its instructions are as follows:

  1. Stand with your back and legs straight
  2. Place your feet together
  3. Keep your arms at your sides
  4. Do not begin until you are instructed to do so
  5. Say that you understand
  6. Raise either leg
  7. Raise said leg six inches from the ground
  8. Keep the raised foot parallel to the ground
  9. Keep both legs straight 
  10. Look at the elevated foot
  11. Count out loud 
  12. Count saying: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and so on
  13. Count until you are told to stop

The officer should only require a suspect to perform the test for 30 seconds and should use a timer to make sure of it, but this is not always the case. As with all standardized sobriety tests, one of the core issues of the one-leg stand is proper training and execution. 

How many clues does it take to fail a one-leg stand test?

It only takes the observation of two clues to fail the one-leg stand. Possible one-leg stand test clues include if you:

  • Sway at all while balancing
  • Raise your arms more than six inches from your body
  • Hop to maintain your balance
  • Drop your foot to the ground

Sway at all and that’s one clue, raise your arms six inches and that’s another. These are things that can happen when walking on a normal day, let alone under the pressure of a police officer’s watchful eye.

Can you refuse a field sobriety test? If they’re so impossible to pass, shouldn’t you just not take it? Sort of. While refusing a sobriety test is legal (it doesn’t break implied consent laws like refusing BAC tests does), it will likely lead to taking an immediate blood or breathalyzer test, which are generally much more reliable evidence for the police. 

How accurate is the one-leg stand test?

Even if the test is carried out correctly, in an environment with important variables controlled, is the one leg stand an accurate measure of intoxication? Not really.

These tests were researched and designed by the NHTSA in the 1970s, using rudimentary scientific principles but not the application of the scientific method, essentially ignoring the necessary conditions for carrying out their supposed experiments. Even when administered in the most ideal conditions, the one-leg stand test has only a 65% accuracy rate.

So, are field sobriety tests accurate? Not anywhere near as accurate as they should be, especially when you consider that they’re used to constitute an arrest. Some problems with the one-leg stand, and really all sobriety tests, include:

  • Balance is compromised and no adjustment is made for those who:
    • Are 50 pounds or more overweight
    • Have sustained back, neck or leg injuries
  • Personal variables that are not considered that may affect behavior, including:
    • Nervousness
    • Inexperience
    • Incoordination
    • Language barriers
  • Environmental variables that are not considered that may affect behavior, including:
    • Flashing lights
    • Cars speeding by
  • You get no opportunity to practice
  • Documentation of clues as evidence occurs after an arrest has already been made

Other than these major problems with the methodology, there is the massive problem that all standardized sobriety tests are essentially designed to be failed. Because the NHTSA is much more concerned with highway safety than they are with due process, the tests are built to facilitate making arrests rather than to truly determine intoxication.

Facing arrest on account of the one-leg stand test? Call Thiessen Law Firm to pick you back up

The one-leg stand test is certifiably bogus, and should not be the reason that anyone is convicted for DWI in Texas. The NHTSA was never concerned with accurate measurement of intoxication, and the methodologies used to develop and conduct field sobriety tests are antiquated and shallow. The good news is that a failed sobriety test is not the end of the line, you can still hire an attorney to debunk junk science and fight for your freedom.

The DWI attorneys at Thiessen Law Firm know how to take DWI cases to trial and win them. If you or a loved one has been arrested under suspicion of DWI, call Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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Thiessen Law Firm

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.