Debunking The Myth Of The OLS

The notion that a defendant’s performance on the one-leg-stand test is a reliable indicator of alcohol intoxication is almost entirely wrong. There are serious problems with this test, and they begin with the vague instructions.

Suppose Betty invites Alice to accompany her on a trip to Dallas so Betty can visit her sick mom. Even though Alice doesn’t know how long they will be gone or where they will stay, she feels pressured to go and therefore agrees. Because they stay in an expensive hotel for several days, Alice runs out of money. As a result, Betty claims that Alice has ruined the trip.

In the one-leg stand test, officers usually tell defendants they must lift one leg about six inches off the ground, but they usually do not tell them the duration of the test. Even though defendants may refuse to take this test, officers rarely give defendants this option and they feel pressured to complete the test. If the defendant runs out of energy after a few seconds and loses balance, the officer inevitably testifies that the defendant “failed” the test.

Components of the OLS

Much like the heel-to-toe walk, the one-leg stand is a divided attention test that measures both mental acuity and physical dexterity. The theory is that intoxicated people have issues in both these areas and are almost completely incapable of doing both at the same time. The other two field sobriety tests usually have either six (in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test) or eight (WAT test) clues. But the OLS only has four clues:

  • Swaying,
  • Balancing with arms,
  • Hopping, and
  • Lowering the foot too early.

Some officers also count items like losing count of the seconds or beginning the test too early as intoxication clues.

Key OLS Test Flaws

In addition to the lack of instructions, this test wrongly assumes that physical impairment is always connected with intoxication. Many other factors, may affect a person’s ability to stand one-legged for a prolonged period of time such as:

  • Age,
  • Obesity,
  • Prior injury, and
  • Current illness.

Officers do not always screen for all these conditions, and even if they do, the defendant may not be aware that the condition will affect test performance.

Furthermore, physical and mental impairment always go hand-in-hand in alcohol use cases. If the defendant only shows substantial physical impairment, something other than alcohol causes that deficiency.

Count On a Savvy Criminal Defense Attorney

The OLS is not a reliable indicator of alcohol intoxication. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Houston, contact the Jim Medley Defense Lawyer. Our main office is conveniently located off the Katy Freeway between Interstate 45 and the West Loop North freeway.