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Understanding DUI Arrests in Washington and the One-Leg Stand Field Sobriety Test

Posted by Tony Swartz | Sep 09, 2022

If you have been pulled over by a police officer in Washington, even if for a simple traffic violation, you know it can make you nervous. A nervous state, however, is not your friend if that traffic stop turns into a drunk driving investigation. This is especially true when you are asked to perform a one-leg-stand test (OLS). Being nervous alone could cause you to fail, and failure of field sobriety tests can be the basis for probable cause to take you into police custody.

At Law Office of Tony Swartz, Tony is a DUI defense lawyer who can explain what you should know about the one-leg-stand test and how a failed test can be challenged. He believes informed clients make better decisions about their DUI cases. Contact Tony today at 509-293-7593 to schedule a free consultation.

What is a One-Leg Stand Test in Kittitas or Yakima County?

The one-leg stand test is a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) used by the police to determine if a driver is operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The OLS is one of three SFSTs recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As a standardized test, the results can be used as evidence in Washington DUI cases.

The OLS must be administered in accordance with specific rules. Police are trained on how to administer the OLS during DUI investigations, but that does not mean they properly administer this field sobriety test.

How is the OLS Test Administered?

The one-leg stand test requires the individual to stand on one foot with the other foot elevated approximately six inches from the ground. While maintaining balance, the individual must count aloud until the law enforcement officer orders the individual to stop and put their foot down.

The individual must also keep his or her eyes on the elevated foot while counting and maintaining balance.

As such, the OLS requires the ability to multitask.

How is the OLS Measured?

The one-leg stand test supposedly estimates a person's unlawful intoxication by using clues. There are four clues an officer looks for while you stand with one leg up, counting out loud.

  1. Swaying back and forth or side to side while balancing. The sway should be a minimum of one inch off center. If you cannot maintain your balance, you fail this clue.
  2. Raising arms for balance. You should be able to raise your arms more than six inches from your side. If you cannot maintain your balance, you fail this clue.
  3. Hopping but keeping your balance. You should move the foot you are balancing on off the ground in succession to perform a “hop.” If you cannot maintain your balance, you fail this clue.
  4. Putting a foot down. The officer will note how many times you let your foot drop to the ground while counting and not yet being told to stop. If you drop your elevated foot three or more times within the 30-second period, you may fail this clue.

Supposedly, if you fail two clues, this indicates your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is greater than 0.08 percent. The police can use this in conjunction with another failed SFST or a failed preliminary breath test as probable cause to arrest you.

Challenges to the One-Leg Stand Test in Washington

Although the one-leg stand test is a commonly used field sobriety test, it is fraught with problems, making it unreliable and vulnerable to challenges in court.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors could distract or otherwise disrupt an OLS in progress. Environmental factors include things like:

  • Noise made by heavy traffic
  • Road conditions, like gravel or uneven roads
  • Weather conditions, like rain, fog, snow, freezing temperatures, etc.
  • Time of day, like nighttime when it's hard to see due to darkness or an officer's patrol lights or daytime when the sun is glaring in your eyes

These conditions are enough to distract any person, but having to perform an OLS while any of these conditions exist can lead to misguided or inaccurate results.

As your DUI defense attorney in Washington, we will question you about your surroundings while you took the OLS and determine if it may have affected your performance. If so, we will collect the evidence and file a motion to exclude the field sobriety test results.

Health and Medical Conditions

In some cases, a person may have a health or medical condition that makes it hard to perform the OLS test. These health conditions can be physical, mental, or emotional. A person with physical impairments like hearing loss or foot injuries should not perform this test. It is also recommended that people over 65 years of age should not perform this test. As for mental and emotional problems, a common condition is anxiety – anxiety can greatly impact a person's performance to their detriment.

That said, the act of standing on one foot is unnatural. Failure can simply be the result of failing to perform an unnatural task simply.

As your DUI defense attorney, we will inquire into any existing health or medical conditions and evaluate how any conditions may have affected your performance. If we determine a condition could have negatively affected your ability to pass field sobriety tests, we will file a motion to exclude the evidence.

Officer Errors

Police officers make mistakes. OLS and other field sobriety tests should be administered properly. The instructions are strict and very technical. An error on the police officer's part can lead to criminal consequences for you. Errors can include anything from confusing instructions to a failure to keep track of the time.

As your DUI defense attorney in Kittitas or Yakima County, Tony will question you about exactly how the officer administer the test; in most scenarios today, officers are also filmed conducting these tests, so it allows even more input into how the officer administered your test. Remember, too, that officers are often required to wear body cameras. Tony reviews any audio or video of the DUI investigation to determine if the office may have made a mistake.

Contact a DUI Defense Lawyer in Kittitas or Yakima County Today

The one-leg stand test is supposed to help the police determine if a person is unlawfully intoxicated while operating a vehicle. The problem is this: the test may have been flawed and can cause you more harm than it's worth. Retaining a DUI defense attorney in Kittitas or Yakima County is your best means to fight any DUI charges.

Contact the Law Office of Tony Swartz today by filling out Tony's online form or calling 509-293-7593 to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author

Tony Swartz

Tony Swartz is an experienced lawyer in Washington State. He has handled, most from start to finish, over 10,000 criminal cases. He has dealt with various types of civil cases, including administrative law hearings, Superior Court cases, District Court cases, and more.

Law Office of Tony Swartz

Tony Swartz is a lawyer who practices criminal defense in Kittitas County and Yakima County. He also represents clients with speeding tickets and other infractions. Call today for a free consultation.

Tony has lived in Ellensburg since 2005, other than a brief break for law school. He attended CWU and Willamette University College of Law.

Contact Info

​PO Box 684
Ellensburg, WA 98926
Office: 422 N Pine, Ellensburg WA 98926

[email protected]
509-293-7593
Fax: 509-295-8378

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