When a driver is pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the investigating officer might ask the driver to submit to a series of sobriety tests. These roadside tests are used by the police to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. However, field sobriety tests are regularly criticized as being an unreliable measure of intoxication. How are these field tests used in practice, and what do you need to know if you’re pulled over for DUI in Virginia?
The Use of Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia
Field sobriety tests conducted by police officers may be unreliable for a number of reasons. Numerous external factors can affect the administration of the tests, and a police officer’s interpretation of the tests is often considered subjective. Because of this, the results of field sobriety tests are often challenged in court, leading to their exclusion from many DUI cases.
Despite questions about the reliability of sobriety tests, many law enforcement officers in Virginia continue to use field sobriety tests during DUI stops. In Virginia, officers most commonly use three field sobriety tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
These three tests are often called “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” due to their widespread use and endorsement from the NHTSA. The SFSTs include:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test – The officer will move their finger or pen back and forth in front of a driver’s face, looking to see if the driver’s eyes can smoothly follow the movement.
- Walk-and-turn test – Measures a driver’s balance and ability to follow directions. A driver will be instructed to walk a certain number of steps heel-to-toe, turn around, and walk back with the same number of steps. The officer will look to see if the driver sways or loses balance, loses count, or can’t walk heel to toe.
- One-leg-stand test – This test measures a driver’s ability to maintain balance while completing other tasks. A driver will place their hands at their side while raising one foot and counting 1001, 1002, and so on. The officer will look for signs of difficulty maintaining balance or keeping count.
Two additional tests that might be administered by law enforcement include:
- Finger-to-nose test – The individual will be asked to stand straight with their feet together, close their eyes, extend their arms, and then touch their nose with each index finger.
- Rhomberg balance test – The individual will be asked to stand straight, tilt their head back, close their eyes, and try to guess when 30 seconds have passed. This test is designed to identify balance and coordination issues and distorted perceptions of time.
Because field sobriety tests require clear instructions from the officer and are reliant on their observation of the subject’s performance, there is a lot of room for error. In many instances, even sober people have failed these tests due to stress, unclear instructions, inability to perform the task required, and other issues.
It’s important to note that field sobriety tests can be challenged, and the court is likely to exclude them if the officer did not follow strict protocols when administering them.
Arrested for DUI? Contact the Criminal Defense Team at Whitestone Young, PC
If you’ve been arrested and charged with DUI, call Whitestone Young, PC right away. Our skilled trial lawyers have extensive experience helping those who’ve been arrested on suspicion of DUI in Fairfax County and the surrounding areas. We will be ready to discuss your situation in detail when you call us at (703) 591-0200 or reach out to us online. Don’t wait to get the qualified legal representation you need and deserve. Call us or fill out an online contact form today.