Field Sobriety Testing and DUIs in Virginia

Field sobriety tests often form the foundation of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charges. While police are trained on how to administer them, these field sobriety tests are not always completely reliable. If you are facing DUI charges in Virginia, you may want to consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney to help identify if there are any issues with your field sobriety test. At the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall, our experienced DUI lawyers have handled many DUI cases, and we may be able to apply our experience and knowledge to your case. Call us at 703-934-0101 today for a free consultation.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) curriculum that is used broadly across the United States. Officers must comply with these guidelines to minimize the risk of error in administration. Some of the tests include the following:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The first of the three SFST tests is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). The HGN test is considered the most reliable of the field sobriety tests. In this test, the officer monitors the quick jerky movements of the eyes, which becomes apparent in people who are under the influence of alcohol.

One Leg Stand

The police officer should begin by instructing a driver regarding how to perform the test and ask the driver to acknowledge that he or she understands the instructions. This test involves

standing on one leg while looking down at your raised foot. The officer will watch you to see if the driver sways, falls, or otherwise loses his or her balance.

Walk and Turn

The walk and turn test requires a driver to put one foot in front of the other with his or her arms at their side. A driver then takes nine steps from heel to toe, looking down at their feet and counting the steps out loud. The officers will look at several clues to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol including the following:

  • Losing balance
  • Starting too soon
  • Stopping while walking
  • Not touching heel to toe
  • Stepping off the line
  • Using arms for balance
  • Improper turning
  • Incorrect number of steps

Do I Have to Take a Field Sobriety Test in Virginia?

In Virginia, field sobriety tests can only be conducted with consent. In other words, you have the legal right to refuse to take a field sobriety test in Virginia. The state of Virginia recognizes that there are various other reasons why somebody may not want to consent to a sobriety test in a public place, such as being tired, elderly, or physically incapacitated. This refusal cannot be used against you. You must give your full and voluntary consent to the field sobriety testing.

Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are sometimes the most important evidence in proving a DUI. However, there are often issues with the test that can sometimes call into question the results. At the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall, our experienced attorneys understand how to identify these potential problems and challenge the use of invalid or improper field sobriety test results against you.

Subjectivity

Field sobriety tests, unlike breath tests or blood tests, are extremely subjective. The results are almost entirely left up to the discretion of the police officer administering the test. What one officer considers “swaying” or “wobbling,” another might not find out of the ordinary. The police are also responsible for reporting information based on their observations that would be more reliable if there were an objective measure. For example, the eye test requires the police to identify the angles at which the eyes are moving. This subjectivity leaves a lot of room for error.

Improper Instruction

The results of the test are only as good as the police officer’s instruction. To pass a field sobriety test, it often requires the driver to make precise and exact movements according to the officer’s instructions. If an officer provided unclear or insufficient instructions, then the driver may fail the test simply by complying with the officer’s commands. For example, if the officer fails to tell the driver to take exactly nine steps during the walk and turn test, and the driver takes seven steps, then they may technically fail the exam through no fault of their own.

Vague or Inconsistent Reports

If the officer arrests you for a suspected DUI, they will have to complete a report and explain the basis of their probable cause. This basis is often the driver’s failure to pass the field sobriety test. If the officer failed to properly document the field sobriety test, it may be possible to challenge their observations.

Coercion

As previously mentioned, a person must fully consent to a field sobriety test. If it appears that the police forced or coerced you into taking the test, the results of that test may be suppressed from evidence, meaning it cannot be used against you to prove that you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Other Explanations

There are often other ways to explain the driver’s inability to perform the field sobriety tests. For example, an uneven surface may make the one-leg test or the walk and turn test very difficult. The driver might also have medical conditions that would make these physical tests difficult to do. By speaking with an experienced DUI attorney, you may be able to strengthen your defense to your DUI charge based on improper or inaccurate field sobriety test results.

Talk to a Virginia DUI Attorney at the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall

If you are facing DUI charges in Virginia, the experienced defense attorneys at the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall may be able to help. We have represented many DUI defendants and fight tirelessly to ensure their legal rights are protected throughout the process. If you believe your Virginia field sobriety test may have been improperly administered or inaccurate, contact us at 703-934-0101 to tell us more about your case.