Criminal Defense Lawyer Norfolk, VA and throughout Hampton Roads
Criminal Defense Lawyer Norfolk, VA and throughout Hampton Roads

Can You Refuse To Take Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia?

Front grill strobes of a police car during a traffic stop for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Police officers and state troopers in Virginia often make arrests for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. It usually begins with a traffic stop for a violation such as speeding, erratic driving, or a broken taillight. An officer or trooper will then gather evidence. This often includes the use of field sobriety tests (FSTs).

Why do police officers ask drivers to take field sobriety tests?

Police officers request these tests if they suspect a driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. FSTs are designed to quickly assess a driver's motor skills, balance, and ability to follow instructions. These tasks can be affected by alcohol or drug intoxication, and the officer can use their observations to determine if the driver is potentially impaired.

Which field sobriety tests are used?

There are three standardized field sobriety tests sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They include:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test – This test assesses involuntary jerking movements of the eyeballs (nystagmus) when following a slowly moving object horizontally. The officer asks you to follow a pen or other object smoothly with your eyes only while keeping your head still. The presence of nystagmus at certain angles can be an indicator of impairment.
  • The Walk-and-Turn Test – This test evaluates your ability to follow instructions, divide your attention, and maintain balance while walking. The officer instructs you on a specific sequence of steps, like taking nine heel-to-toe steps, turning on one foot, and walking back nine steps. Observations are made on your ability to follow instructions, maintain balance, and avoid missteps.
  • The One-Leg Stand Test – This test assesses your balance and coordination by asking you to stand on one leg for a specific time while counting out loud. The officer observes your ability to maintain balance for the required time, use your arms for balance, or hop excessively.

Are field sobriety tests accurate?

Law enforcement officers and prosecutors rely on test results as evidence in DUI cases, but these tests are far from foolproof. For these tests to be admissible as evidence, they must be administered according to standardized protocols to ensure consistency and minimize subjectivity. The skill and experience of the officer administering the tests can influence results. FSTs can be unreliable due to various factors unrelated to impairment, such as fatigue, anxiety, medical conditions, and uneven surfaces.

Can I refuse to take field sobriety tests?

Yes, you can refuse to take FSTs in Virginia, and you will face no penalties for refusing to take them. However, you may still face arrest on a DUI charge. The officer may rely on other observations, such as your driving behavior, breath odor, or bloodshot eyes, to build a case for probable cause. The officer could then ask you to take a chemical test (breath or blood test) to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC). Under Virginia's "implied consent" law, drivers who refuse to take a chemical test face a mandatory license suspension.

Call an experienced Virginia DUI defense attorney

A conviction on DUI charges can have serious consequences in Virginia. These include license suspension, heavy fines, and jail time. Some drivers may be required to have an ignition interlock device installed when they get their license back. A conviction will remain on your permanent record and may limit your ability to get certain types of jobs. You can also expect your insurance premiums to rise.

You need an experienced Virginia DUI defense lawyer to fight for your rights. At Welch & Wright, PLLC, we can challenge field sobriety test results and other evidence. We will build the strongest possible defense and fight for the best possible outcome – whether that's a dismissal, a not guilty verdict, or a reduced sentence.

If you've been arrested in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, or elsewhere in the Hampton Roads area, it's important to get legal advice as soon as possible. Learn more about how we can help. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

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