Interviewer: The one-leg stand. What’s involved with that one?
Paul Tafelski: Typically in that one, the officer again will explain it and demonstrate it, and some officers will give a person a specific amount of time to count. For example, they may say, “Lift your leg six inches off the ground and point your toe out and count to 20 by one.”
Sometimes they’ll just tell people to, “Count until I tell you to quit,” which is a difficult proposition because most people can’t stand one-legged endlessly, but what the officer is looking for in that test while you’re doing it is, are you swaying while you balance, do you see your arms for balance, do you hop at all or do you put your foot down? Also, they’re looking to see, can you count properly, do you follow the directions exactly right? Those are clues for that test.
While Administering the Field Sobriety Tests Police Officers Look for Clues that they Grade a Person On
Now the same thing, briefly going back to your walk-and-turn test, they’re looking for your balance during the instructions. They’re also looking, do you use your arms to balance as you’re walking along the line, do you lose your balance, do you take the wrong number of steps? There are several clues in there, what they call clues that they’re supposed to be grading you on.
The unfortunate part is if you read almost every police report for someone who’s been arrested for drunk-driving, if you miss even one of these clues, they basically write up the report as if you failed that test when in reality, for example, with the walk-and-turn test, there are eight different clues they’re supposed to be watching for. If you only miss one of those, most people would not consider that failing, but the police do. The good news is that’s something that you can point out at a trial, if need be.
In Addition to the Commonly Administered FSTs, Additional Tests May be Utilized by the Police to Check for Signs of Impairment
Interviewer: Are there any other additional tests that they give to people that are not the typical tests? Are there any extraneous tests that they decide to perform?
Paul Tafelski: Sure, there are a lot of them. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test and the one-legged stand test, those are the three tests that are accepted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Other ones are not really approved but are very common. For example, here in Michigan, ABC test is common. The way that’s administered, you get an officer who will either say, “Just say your ABCs without singing them,” or they will say, “Say your ABCs from A to O,” or they’ll just pick two random letters for you to go from this point to that point. What they’re looking for there is, can you do it without messing up? You would be amazed at the number of people who look perfectly fine on the tapes who still do mess up those tests.
In all of the Tests Administered, the Main Component is to check if Directions are Specifically Followed
Another one along those same lines is the count-backwards test where they will pick a number, let’s say 97, and tell you, “Count from 97 to 78.” In that case, they’re trying to see, can you remember the starting point and can you remember the end point, and can you say it without slurring your speech and without messing up?
With all of these tests, one of the main components is can you specifically and exactly follow directions, which is hard for a lot of people who are under the influence of alcohol, or sober and just nervous around cops. That’s a probability we forget is that you might just be somebody who gets nervous around police.