Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia
Norfolk, VA DUI defense lawyers explain drivers’ rights
When police officers and state troopers in Virginia stop a driver because they believe the person is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, they often ask the driver to take a field sobriety test.
What are these tests? And are drivers required to take them in Virginia? You need to know your rights – and what to do next.
Our skilled Norfolk, Virginia DUI defense attorneys at Welch & Wright, PLLC in Norfolk know these state statutes inside and out. That’s because our courtroom-tested trial lawyers have worked with many people facing serious DUI charges throughout Virginia. Don’t take chances with your future. Get the Norfolk DUI law firm focused on winning your case. Our mission is your freedom.
Standard field sobriety tests in Virginia
In Virginia, there are three standard DUI Field Sobriety Tests, including:
- One Leg Stand (OLS) Test – Involves standing on one leg raised a few inches above the ground while the police officer evaluates your level of coordination and asks you to count aloud.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test – You must follow a pen or light held by the police officer with your eyes without moving your head. The police officer is looking for any involuntary eye movements that may indicate that you are intoxicated.
- Walk and Turn (WAT) Test – You are asked to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, turn on one foot and walk back in the same direction, while keeping your balance and being asked to count the steps out loud.
Unreliability of DUI field sobriety tests
The field sobriety tests are notoriously unreliable. Reasons why include:
- One Leg Stand Test Errors – Many people fail this test due to being nervous, poor coordination, bad weather, standing on uneven ground and other non-alcohol-related factors.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test Errors – Wind, rain and how fast the police officer is moving the light shining in someone’s eyes can have a big influence on the test. It’s also important to note that police officers are not eye doctors and can easily make mistakes when assessing someone’s eye movements. Involuntary eye movement can be caused by medication, nervousness, or even the police officers own squad car lights blinking.
- Walk and Turn Test Errors – While this may seem simple, many factors can cause a driver to "fail" this test, including passing cars and lights, health issues, and confusing or improper instructions from the police officer.
Can I refuse to take a DUI field sobriety test in Virginia?
What many people might not realize is they do not have to take a DUI Field Sobriety Test in Virginia. You have the right to say no if a police officer asks you to take such a test. And unlike DUI chemical tests, there are no legal penalties for refusing to take a Field Sobriety Test in Virginia.
So if a police officer asks you to take one of these tests after they pull you over, in many situations it may be smart to decline to do so. Even if you are not legally intoxicated, you could still fail one of these tests, and those results can be used against you. It is important to decline these tests politely. Any interaction with a police officer should be undertaken in the most polite and cooperative manner possible – this seemingly meaningless gesture can sometimes lead to reductions or dismissals of charges.
However, do note, just like the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT), the police officer does not necessarily need you to complete FSTs in order to have probable cause to arrest. Other factors such as your driving behavior, slurred speech, scent of alcohol, or even empty alcohol containers within your vehicle could be enough for the officer to still place you under arrest for DUI.
But if you already took the field sobriety test, even if you failed, that’s not the end of your case. An experienced attorney knows the weaknesses of these tests and can review the evidence to determine whether the police officer conducted them correctly. Get an attorney who knows how to fight back.
You have rights. We can fight for them
A lot can happen after being stopped by police in Virginia if they suspect you are driving under the influence of alcohol. If you took a DUI Field Sobriety Test – or refused to take one – and you were arrested and charged with drunk driving, don’t simply assume there’s nothing you can do. You have rights. We can protect them.