Wisconsin law enforcement actively watches for intoxicated driving every day, testing drivers whom they suspect may be under the influence.

While The State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported over 24,000 drunk driving convictions in 2014, this statistic does not include the additional number of traffic stops made on suspicion of drunk driving which did not result in convictions.

If you have never been stopped by police on suspicion of drunk driving, driving under the influence (DUI), or operating while under the influence of an intoxicant (OWI), you may not be aware of the methods used by law enforcement in their attempt to confirm their suspicions after pulling someone over to check for DUI or OWI in Wisconsin.

One method police use to help build evidence against you after pulling you over for suspected DUI or OWI is to ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FST's).

This article will take a closer look at one of the more popular field sobriety tests used in Wisconsin: the walk-and-turn test. You will learn what is involved in this test, including what cues law enforcement is watching for as you perform this FST. You will also be offered some direction in preparing for your defense if you have been charged with drunk driving or DUI in Wisconsin.

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Field Sobriety Tests: Not Required By Law in Wisconsin

Like most people, you likely already know to pull over once you hear the sirens and see the police lights in your rear-view mirror. You may also know to turn off your car and wait for the police officer to approach your vehicle.

What you may not know is the officer will likely ask you to get out of your vehicle at some point and participate in a series of tests, called field sobriety tests, to help substantiate his or her assumption that you might be intoxicated.

Before getting into the details of the walk-and-turn test, it's important to understand the voluntary nature of your participation in field sobriety testing in the state of Wisconsin.



"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

Many people don't realize that choosing to participate in field sobriety tests is exactly that—a choice. You are not required by law in Wisconsin to submit to these tests. Choosing to go along with testing in the field in the hope your cooperation will improve the outcome of your case may, instead, result in the opposite effect.

It is worth noting that FST's are notoriously subjective and frequently inaccurate, as your ability to "pass" these tests can be impacted by many factors, including health conditions, nerves, environmental conditions and more. There are no scientific tools of measurement employed during these tests and the results are based on the officer's instructions, administration and observations which are all inherently subjective.

What if I Refuse Field Sobriety Tests?

Should you choose not to submit to field sobriety testing, be polite and respectful as you communicate your wishes as calmly and succinctly as possible, but be prepared to be arrested on the spot.

While this may sound scary, understand that the subjectivity of testing in the field may also have likely resulted in an arrest.

The difference is that you will be going to the police station without having voluntarily created additional subjective and possibly inaccurate evidence to be used against you in your OWI case. This arrest is not to be confused with a judgment of guilt. You are being arrested on suspicion of OWI, which has yet to be substantiated.

Once you are at the station, you will be expected to submit to chemical testing through blood or urine samples. You may even need to go to another location to be tested. This kind of testing is required as a condition of implied consent in Wisconsin, meaning you cannot legally refuse to submit to these tests.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is very important that you contact an experienced OWI defense attorney as soon as you are able, as there are very serious consequences in Wisconsin for operating under the influence or drugs or alcohol, including fines, jail time and other penalties.

The Walk-and-Turn Test

When you are asked to perform any FST, the officer will first give you all of the instructions before asking you to begin performing the test. This is done with the intention of grading your ability to remember, process, and accurately follow instructions.

The actual walk-and-turn test, sometimes referred to as the heel-toe test, includes the following steps, as communicated by the NHTSA and shared by The State of New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety:


Walk and Turn Instructions

  1. Put your left foot on the line, then place your right foot on the line ahead of your left, with the heel of your right foot against the toe of your left foot.
  2. Do not start until I tell you to do so.
  3. Do you understand? (must receive affirmative response)
  4. When I tell you to begin, take 9 heel-to-toe steps on the line (demonstrate) and take 9 heel-to-toe steps back down the line.
  5. When you turn on the ninth step, keep your front foot on the line and turn taking several small steps with the other foot (demonstrate) and take 9 heel-to-toe steps back down the line.
  6. Ensure you look at your feet, count each step out loud, keep your arms at your side, ensure you touch heel-to-toe and do not stop until you have completed the test.
  7. Do you understand the instructions?
  8. You may begin.
  9. If the suspect does not understand some part of the instructions, only the part in which the suspect does not understand should be repeated.

How Do Police Decide if I Pass or Fail the Walk-and-Turn Test?

In order to determine if your performance of the walk-and-turn test passes or fails, the law enforcement officer will be watching for a number of different cues as you perform the test. These are up to 8 behavioral cues they may observe, including:

  1. Starting the test before you are instructed to start
  2. Losing your balance during the test
  3. Miss a step in the heel to toe progression
  4. Stopping at any point during the test
  5. Using your arms for balance
  6. Stepping off the line (real or imaginary) at any time
  7. Taking a different number of steps than the number you were instructed to take
  8. Turning improperly or differently than instructed

Keep in mind, these instructions may vary based on each officer's individual instructions and administration of the test and be impacted by various factors including health issues, weather, distractions and environmental factors.

What if I Fail the Walk-and-Turn Test?

If the police officer feels there is sufficient reason to believe you are intoxicated, based on your driving behavior and scores from field sobriety testing, you will likely be arrested.

Stay calm.

This arrest is not an admission or conviction of guilt; you are only being arrested on suspicion of OWI.

That being said, there are serious consequences to an OWI conviction in Wisconsin. In fact, as of April 2016, penalties for repeat OWI convictions became even more severe, making it all the more crucial to contact a lawyer specializing in DUI defense as soon as you are able.

Once you are have been processed, you will have the opportunity to make a phone call. Use this important opportunity to contact a proven criminal defense attorney to help advise you on what to do next.

Do not lose hope if you are facing OWI charges in Wisconsin. Instead, do yourself the favor of contacting an aggressive criminal defense attorney to help you explore the details of your case, including the accuracy of field sobriety test results, while helping you fight OWI charges in Wisconsin.

FREE 10-Minute Consultation

Madison Criminal Defense Attorney Pat Stangl is happy to offer—at no obligation—a FREE 10-minute consultation to discuss the details of your case and explore possible defense strategies.

If you are facing OWI, DUI, DWI, BAC, PAC or other criminal charges in Wisconsin, take the first step toward fighting for your freedom today.

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