DWI Street Science: One-Leg Stand Test

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522


Part 1: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
Part 2: Walk and Turn
Part 3: One Leg Stand


The One-Leg Stand Test is the third and final standardized field sobriety test. If you were a child or young adult in the 80s, you may remember Ralph Macchio in the Karate kid doing a particularly handy one leg stand before he won his karate tournament. Unfortunately, the police officer who evaluated your stance probably wasn’t as forgiving as a Daniel-son’s sensei. While this test is probably the easiest of the three tests to perform successfully, it is certainly not beyond the capabilities of a sober person to fail it. This article discusses the procedures and common mistakes in administering the One-Leg Stand Test.


The One-Leg Stand Test is yet another divided attention test which requires suspects to perform multiple tasks at the same time (such as counting and balancing). Proper instructions for performing the test are fairly clear-cut, but like the Walk and Turn Test, you don’t get the grading rubric until you fail and hear about it from your attorney or the prosecutor.

A properly conducted OLS test requires the officer to instruct the suspect to stand with feet together and arms at the side and to hold that position until instructed to begin. The officer must then instruct the suspect to raise either leg, with the foot approximately six inches off the ground, and keep the raised foot parallel to the ground. The officer then instructs the suspect that, while keeping both legs straight and arms at the side, to count until instructed to stop. Finally the officer is supposed to instruct a suspect to continue watching the raised foot while counting.

Despite a total of 8 separate instructions, there are only 4 possible ways for a person to commit an “error.” Once a suspect exhibits 2 of these “errors” the suspect has failed. The “errors” include:

  1. Swaying while balancing
  2. Raising arms from the side of the body
  3. Hopping
  4. Putting foot down


Like the Walk and Turn Test, but to a somewhat lesser degree, this test assumes that the people being tested are good at following directions in the first place. It assumes that a failure to follow directions is due to intoxication as opposed to the stress or panic of being investigated for a DWI on the side of a busy highway. It also assumes that people will ignore their instinct to hold their arms out to the side as most would do in performing any balancing act.

Also, like the Walk and Turn Test, officers are required to screen individuals to determine if they are a bad candidate for the test. Bad candidates include all the same types of people from the Walk and Turn bad candidate list (individuals older than 65 or with back or leg problems) with one addition: individuals who are 50 or more pounds overweight. The research behind the test indicates that these types of individuals have had difficulty performing the test while sober.

Regardless of logical flaws, improper administration, or simply being a bad candidate, the investigating officer has a job to do and a limited number of tools to do it with. The truth is that most officers form a belief as to whether or not you are intoxicated long before asking you to balance on one foot. The mistakes made on the roadside have very little bearing on the decision to arrest, but they certainly can become significant when the case ends up on a prosecutor’s desk. Be assured, they will only be as significant as they can be effectively pointed out.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

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