Legal Defense for Your Future Proudly Representing Clients in the Charlottesville area CONTACT US TODAY

Understanding DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia

Feb. 9, 2021

In Virginia, when you are pulled over under the suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an officer cannot arrest you unless there is probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is enough to pull you over but not enough to arrest you. To satisfy probable cause to make the arrest, an officer may ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FST).

Most people perform these tests because they think they have to do so, and they also want to be cooperative. Little do they know, however, is these tests are highly subjective and easy to fail. At Bryan J. Jones, LLC, we will review your case and let you know if your field sobriety tests can be challenged.

Contact us if you have been charged with a DUI in Virginia, especially if you believe the FSTs were improperly administered or if you have any other questions about the arrest in general.

Field Sobriety Tests Used in Virginia

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has standardized three field sobriety tests:

  1. walk-and-turn test;

  2. one-leg stand test; and

  3. horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN).

These tests are supposedly designed to measure certain responses or reflexes that may indicate intoxication. The police look for specific cues. For example, the HGN test is supposed to measure your eye's involuntary jerking, which intoxication can exacerbate. The one-leg stand and walk-and-turn tests are designed to divide your attention: coordination versus the ability to follow specific instructions.

These three tests are the only standardized tests available in Virginia and throughout the United States. Some states allow other non-standardized tests to be administered, but in Virginia, those tests can't be used (e.g., stating the alphabet backward).

The Problem of Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia

Many problems are associated with field sobriety tests, but some of the most common are described below.

Poor Administration

Police must be trained in FSTs. They must also follow certain guidelines when administering the tests. If an officer provides poor instructions or does not give the test properly, you are bound to fail.

Absence of Sound Science

Field sobriety tests are not backed by sound science. These tests have not been peer-reviewed as would happen with other science-based approaches. These tests are also not verified by scientific methods that held real empirical results. The probability of inaccurate results is significant, making the tests not only unscientific but supremely unfair.

Physical Factors

There are a number of personal physical factors that can impact your performance of an FST, like:

  • nerves – the thought of an arrest alone can make you extremely nervous;

  • weight – if you are overweight, this can cause you to lose your balance;

  • fatigue – being tired can make things focusing difficult;

  • medical conditions – many conditions can cause problems like neurological conditions or injuries, skeletal or movement disorders, inner ear infections, recent surgery, etc.;

  • poor coordination – if you have poor coordination, then this is an inherent problem with performance.

Mental & Emotional Factors

You may have a mental health issue that prevents you from understanding or cooperating properly during the performance of the test.

Environmental & Other Factors

Things like road conditions, traffic, lighting, the weather, the time of day/night, and footwear (heels v. sneakers), among other factors, can impact the performance of an FST negatively.

Challenges to Field Sobriety Test Results After a Charlottesville DUI Arrest

FSTs are highly subjective and unscientific. You do not have to perform these tests when asked, and in most situations, it can work against you. In fact, a police officer is more inclined to assume you are intoxicated if you submit to the test. But keep in mind, if you refuse, the refusal can be used in part as proof you thought you may be illegally intoxicated to operate a vehicle and that can be used as probable cause to arrest you. So, it's a hard choice to make.

In the end, if you do perform the tests and a Virginia police officer claims you failed, these tests can be challenged. An experienced DUI attorney will:

  • highlight known flaws specific to each FST;

  • point out the unscientific nature of the tests;

  • identify any other relevant problems associated with FST poor performance as noted above; and

  • address the unreliability of any non-standardized FSTs administered during the traffic stop.

Contact an Experienced DUI Attorney in Charlottesville VA

Being pulled over and then suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is always a nerve-wracking experience. But being asked to perform a field sobriety test can increase the anxiety. If you feel that you failed an FST for any reason other than being illegally intoxicated, contact us today. We will comprehensively challenge any administered FST as well as build a defense with the intent to get the charges dismissed or reduced or you acquitted at trial.

Contact us today because we know how a DUI arrest can negatively impact our clients' lives, so addressing it as soon as possible is the key to success.