Understanding the One-Leg Stand Sobriety Test in Wisconsin and Your Right to Refuse

Updated by Stangl Law on October 27, 2020

person standing on the ground

If you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence in Wisconsin, at some point the police will likely ask you to step out of your car in order to take part in testing used with the intention of confirming the officer's suspicion that you are intoxicated due to drug use or alcohol consumption.

You probably already have some awareness of these roadside tests used by police to test for drunk driving, whether in movies or real life. The official term for these tests is, field sobriety tests (FSTs).

While you may be asked to perform any number or combination of FSTs, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognizes three tests as standardized field sobriety tests. These tests include: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test or HGN, the walk-and-turn test (WAT) and the one-leg stand test (OLS).

All three of these drunk driving tests are frequently used by police in Wisconsin, though it is to your advantage to know your rights before deciding whether or not to submit to these tests.

If this is your first time being arrested for drunk driving in Wisconsin, it is important that you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you are able.

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Field Sobriety Testing is NOT Required in Wisconsin

It is human nature to do whatever the police ask you to do. After all, if you've just heard police sirens and seen lights in your rear-view mirror, you're probably already a bit stressed or even frightened. That's completely understandable. It is a very intimidating position to be in.

However, whenever you're dealing with the police it is very important to try to stay calm and be respectful. It is also very important for the ultimate outcome of the traffic stop for you to realize that you are not legally required to take field sobriety tests.

That's right: you do not have to take these tests if you choose not to under Wisconsin law.



"Many people in Wisconsin, if they're pulled over for suspicion of operating while under the influence of an intoxicant, don't realize that they are not legally required to do field sobriety tests." 

- Attorney Patrick Stangl

Knowing your rights going into a traffic stop where you are under suspicion for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) can go a long way toward potentially helping you in your criminal defense, should you be charged with operating under the influence of an intoxicant or OWI in Wisconsin.

To learn more information to help you build the best OWI defense in Wisconsin, read the following articles by Stangl Law:

If you are the parent of a young driver who has been arrested for drunk or impaired driving in Wisconsin, read our other article: What to do if Your Teen is Arrested for OWI in Wisconsin.

What Police Look for in DUI Traffic Stops

The one-leg stand stand—a popular Wisconsin OWI test—seems to be designed to check your balance, but there is more to it. All of the standardized field sobriety tests are also designed as divided attention tests, meaning law enforcement will be watching you for two different behaviors to determine if your conduct in the tests will support their suspicion of your intoxication and serve as evidence to justify your arrest for OWI.

Those two things police look for in a sobriety test are:

  1. How well you were able to listen to, remember and then follow their instructions
  2. How well you physically perform these tests

Field sobriety tests are famous for being inaccurate due to the great degree of subjectivity. There are many factors which can impact the accuracy of sobriety testing, from presenting the instructions and monitoring the test, to the environmental conditions and the health of the driver taking the tests, and other factors.

By calmly and respectfully refusing a field sobriety test in Wisconsin, you are choosing not to voluntarily help provide potentially inaccurate and subjective evidence which could otherwise be used against you in court. 

It is important to note: if you are stopped for suspicion of OWI in Wisconsin and politely refuse to submit to sobriety testing in the field, you can expect to be arrested on the spot. You will later be required to submit to chemical testing under our state's implied consent laws. Stay calm and cooperate. As soon as you are able, contact an experienced DUI lawyer to discuss the details of your case.

The One-Leg Stand Test for Intoxication

In this common and nationally-recognized standard field sobriety test, the officer will first have you listen to all of his or her instructions before beginning. It is important to try to remain still until you are told to begin the test.

In some manner, you should expect to be instructed to:

  • Stand with your feet together
  • Keep your arms at your sides
  • Hold that position until you are instructed to begin
  • Once you are instructed to begin, you will be expected to raise one foot (they will tell you which one in the initial instructions) 6 inches above the ground, keeping your leg straight and foot parallel to the ground
  • You will be instructed to then count out loud from 1-30, likely in a one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two style

You may or may not be instructed to do the same with the opposite leg.

It is very important to listen to all of the instructions closely, as part of what you are being tested on is your ability to remember and follow every detail, exactly as you were instructed. 

In addition to your ability to remember and follow their instructions, the officer will also be watching you for the following four additional behaviors:

  1. Other movement of any kind, such as swaying
  2. Moving or extending your arms in any way for balance
  3. Hopping to maintain balance
  4. Touching your raised foot to the ground

In order to consider this test evidence of your intoxication, you need only display two of these behaviors.

As many individuals have trouble with memory or balance for a wide range of reasons, it's easy to see why electing not to participate in this test might be in your best interest.

What if I Fail the One-Leg Stand Test?

If you demonstrate just two of the behaviors police are watching for, you will fail the one-leg test, you can expect to be arrested for drunk driving or driving under the influence (DUI). If you choose not to participate in the one-leg sobriety test or other FSTs, you can also expect to be arrested. What's the difference?

The difference is this: if you politely and respectfully choose to exercise your right not to take field sobriety tests, you did not help to create potentially subjective or inaccurate evidence which could have been used against you in your DUI case.

With an aggressive OWI lawyer in your corner, your refusal to submit to field sobriety testing could very likely help you beat your OWI charges in court.

If you are facing criminal OWI charges in Wisconsin after having failed sobriety testing during a traffic stop, it is very important for you to contact an aggressive and proven criminal defense attorney--preferably one who specializes in drunk driving defense.

FREE 10-Minute Consultation

Madison Criminal Defense Attorney, Pat Stangl, has specialized in helping clients fight DUI, DWI, BAC, PAC and OWI charges in Wisconsin and across the country for over 30 years. Committed to providing aggressive defense against subjective tactics, such as field sobriety testing, Attorney Stangl is happy to extend to you at no obligation a FREE 10-Minute Consultation to help you explore your options.

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Topics: Drunk Driving Charges (OWI)



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