The Role of Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia DUI Cases

You may have heard of field sobriety tests, but you may not fully understand what role they play in your Virginia DUI/DWI case. A driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated charge is a serious accusation and requires proof that you were intoxicated. Law enforcement may use field sobriety tests to help establish whether you were intoxicated behind the wheel.

 Our Manassas DUI lawyers explain field sobriety tests and how they can affect your criminal case. Our dedicated attorneys know how to challenge field sobriety test results when they are performed improperly, which they often are. Let us consider your case and build a customized defense to your DUI charges.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

 Field sobriety tests are used by Virginia law enforcement to determine if a driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Police are trained in how to perform these tests in very specific ways in accordance with Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) procedures.

 Contrary to popular belief, field sobriety tests are not mandatory. You can decline to take a field sobriety test, and there is no penalty for declining them. Declining cannot be used against you in court or to suspend your license. In fact, the less evidence officers have about your potential intoxication, the more difficult it may be for them to convict you.

Common Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia DUIs

Virginia law enforcement uses three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to help determine if a driver is under the influence.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

A horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test occurs when an officer holds a pen, light, or finger in front of the driver’s eyes. The officer asks the driver to follow the object with their eyes across a horizontal plane. 

Officers are looking for clues that indicate intoxication, such as:

  • Involuntary jerking of the eyes before they hit 45 degrees
  • Lack of tracking or smoothness in eye movement
  • Distinct and sustained nystagmus 

One-Leg-Stand Test 

The one-leg-stand (OLS) test requires a driver to raise a single leg about six inches off of the ground. They must keep the foot pointed out and hold that position while counting out loud. Officers look for clues of intoxication that include:

  • Swaying and the inability to balance
  • Hopping around
  • Putting the foot down
  • Using arms to balance

Walk-and-Turn Test

The walk-and-turn (WAT) test requires the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for nine steps. The individual must then turn around, and repeat the process in the opposite direction. They must also count out loud while doing so. Officers look for signs of intoxication, such as:

  • Inability to follow directions
  • Loss of balance
  • Starting or stopping too soon
  • Not touching heel-to-toe
  • Using arms to balance
  • Incorrect number of steps
  • Stepping off of the line

How Are Field Sobriety Tests Used in DUI Cases?

 Officers use the observations they glean as evidence in your criminal case. For example, an officer may testify in court that the driver was unable to follow directions during the WAT test. They may also testify that the driver lost their balance, failed to count out loud, or had other deviations from the standard test instructions.

A court or jury may consider this evidence to determine whether you were intoxicated. This may be used in addition to or instead of chemical testing such as official breath tests, blood tests, or urine tests to help prove intoxication.

Defend Against Field Sobriety Tests With the Help of an Experienced Virginia DUI Lawyer 

Field sobriety tests are notoriously inaccurate. They are highly subjective, and many officers fail to perform them correctly. These issues could limit their usefulness in court and help defend you against DUI/DWI charges. 

Our Virginia criminal defense lawyers from Battlefield Law Group PLLC can help you challenge these field sobriety tests, look for errors, and defend your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.