Navigating field sobriety tests in Virginia

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2024 | DUI |

Have you ever been pulled over and suspected of driving under the influence (DUI)? If so, you might be familiar with field sobriety tests (FSTs).

These roadside evaluations are used by law enforcement to gauge a driver’s possible intoxication. How much weight do they hold in Virginia courts, and can you challenge their results?

The role of field sobriety tests

Police officers utilize FSTs to assess drivers’ motor skills and cognitive abilities. These tests are not mandatory, but refusal can raise suspicion and influence an officer’s decision to arrest. There are three standardized FSTs commonly administered:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): The officer observes the suspect’s eye movements as they follow a moving object, looking for involuntary jerking, which can indicate impairment.
  • Walk-and-turn: The driver takes nine heel-to-toe steps, turns on one foot and repeats while the officer observes balance and coordination.
  • One-leg stand: The suspect stands on one leg and counts silently while the officer assesses their ability to maintain balance for a specific time.

While FSTs offer a quick roadside evaluation, they are not foolproof. Factors like fatigue, nervousness or certain medical conditions can impact performance.

Challenging FST results in court

If you believe the FST results were inaccurate or improperly administered, you have the right to challenge them in court. You can challenge FST results due to improper administration because FSTs have specific protocols. Deviations from these procedures, like unclear instructions or uneven surfaces, can cast doubt on the test’s validity.

Additionally, it’s crucial to remember that medical conditions like inner ear problems or injuries can affect balance and coordination, potentially leading to a failing score despite sobriety. Moreover, while NHTSA offers standardized tests, some Virginia localities might have variations. Inconsistencies can raise questions about the test’s reliability.

A strong defense should also focus on the bigger picture. Therefore, if a breathalyzer test showed a BAC below the legal limit or there were no other signs of intoxication, it could weaken the prosecution’s case built on FSTs.

Field sobriety tests are a common tool for DUI investigations in the Old Dominion. However, they are not infallible, and you have the right to contest their results if you believe they were inaccurate. By understanding the limitations of FSTs and seeking legal counsel, you can work to protect your rights and navigate the legal system effectively in the face of a DUI charge.