One Leg Stand

Suspected New Jersey drunk drivers are typically given a field sobriety test such as the one-leg stand test during a traffic stop. Many drivers hope that by “passing” the one-leg stand test, they can avoid an arrest, but that’s rarely the case. Field sobriety tests are used solely to create probable cause for an arrest and generate evidence for a drinking and driving court case.

Many drivers fear that a poor performance on the one-leg stand test dooms them to an automatic conviction, but that’s not the case. An experienced Levow DWI Law New Jersey DWI attorney who focuses on drunk driving defense can challenge the results of the one-leg stand test as part of a comprehensive defense strategy to create reasonable doubt in the driver’s guilt.

The one-leg stand test is one of three field sobriety tests standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The test begins when the officer directs a driver to listen to the instructions while standing with feet together and arms down.

The officer will then instruct the driver to raise one leg about six inches off the ground while holding his or her foot parallel to the surface of the roadway. The driver is instructed to look at his or her foot while counting “one thousand one, one thousand two …” until directed to stop. The test lasts for 30 seconds.

While the driver performs the test, the officer watches for four signs of impairment – hopping on one foot, swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, and putting the foot down three or more time during the test. If the officer spots two or more of these signs, he or she will assume that the motorist has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or greater, and the motorist will be arrested for drunk driving. With two or ore clues, NHTSA has established that this test has a 65% chance of detecting a motorist who has a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or greater.

Like other field sobriety exercises, the one-leg stand test is a divided-attention test – it requires a driver to concentrate on two separate tasks simultaneously. The prosecutor will argue that any variation between the way the officer explained the test and the way the driver performed the test, no matter how minor, is clear evidence of mental or physical impairment.

Like many field sobriety tests, the one-leg stand test is inherently flawed, because mere physical impairment alone is viewed as evidence of intoxication. To understand why this is important, it’s useful to know how alcohol affects the central nervous system.

Alcohol causes both mental and physical impairment, but mental impairment always occurs first. Physical impairment can be disguised by those with a high tolerance for alcohol, but mental impairment cannot be masked. Therefore, if the driver displays no mental impairment, any physical impairment may be attributed to factors other than alcohol. Many conditions can cause a driver to perform poorly on this test, including injury, illness, or a central-nervous system disorder.

Even a motorist who hasn’t had anything to drink might have difficulty standing on one leg for 30 seconds. The one-leg stand test can be particularly challenging for drivers with back or leg injuries, individuals over 65 years old, people with inner-ear disorders or other balance problems, and those who are 50 pounds or more overweight. Uneven ground or heels higher than two inches can skew the test results even further.

Field sobriety tests such as the one-leg stand test can be effectively challenged in court. A New Jersey DWI lawyer who concentrates on DWI / DUI defense will cross-examine the arresting officer aggressively about the driver’s performance on the one-leg stand test, and attempt to prove that any physical difficulties stemmed from factors unrelated to alcohol.

In 2004, Evan Levow achieved Instructor level status in the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, having completed the course and practical work to be accorded that status by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the International Chiefs of Police. All of the New Jersey DWI attorneys at Levow DWI Law have undergone the SFST training through NHTSA and IACP. This background helps us analyze our clients’ cases case and establish defense issues.

Please call Levow DWI Law today to discuss your field sobriety testing and any other New Jersey DWI / DUI related issue. Call 877-593-1717. We will aggressively fight to protect your rights.