Field Sobriety Tests

If you are pulled over and the police suspect you have been drinking, the first test they will give you will be a field sobriety test. These tests seek to measure a person’s coordination, memory, and ability to follow instructions. If the police officer finds that you fail one or all of these tests, he will then measure your blood-alcohol level using a breathalyzer. Because these tests are so important to a DUI stop, a DUI attorney will ensure that all procedures were properly followed and that the police officer did not make any mistakes in administering these tests. If mistakes were made in this testing process, it is possible to get the charges thrown out or significantly reduced.

In Virginia, there is an implied consent law, which means that when you drive in the state, you are consenting to be tested at any time should an officer suspect you are operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Therefore it is illegal to refuse to submit to a blood or breath test if asked. The standard field sobriety test is a battery of three tests, administered in a standardized way in order to validate possible impaired drivers. The tests included are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is also referred to as the HGN; the walk and turn test; and the one-leg stand test. The tests are evaluated according to observed responses of the driver. During the HGN, an officer will ask the driver to follow an object, likely a pen, with their eyes and watch for sudden, jerky movements. If a person’s blood-alcohol level is over .10, this is something the body will do regardless of the person trying to prevent it. Therefore it is the first test given because it is a good way to get a preliminary measure of a person’s BAC.

Secondly, an officer will ask a suspect driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for the walk and turn test. The officer will watch for one’s balance and agility. Finally, during the one-leg stand test, an officer will ask the driver to stand on one leg while counting aloud. If the driver is swaying, using their arms for balance, hopping to maintain balance or is putting their foot down early, they may be considered impaired and may be subject to additional testing.

Failing these tests, however, is not a guarantee that a person is intoxicated. Often a person is very nervous when dealing with the officer which can impact ability. A person may also be tired or have some other issue which prevents them from passing the tests but is not indicative of alcohol use. An experienced DUI lawyer knows how to examine these tests to find out exactly why a person failed.

The field sobriety tests are not mandatory and may be refused without any adverse criminal consequences. The police may also offer a preliminary breath test which is a hand-held device given to a driver while on the scene which also estimates a person’s blood alcohol level. This test is also not required to be taken by a driver suspected of DUI or DWI. These tests are usually administered in addition to a blood or alcohol test to determine the blood alcohol content of the driver. If you are facing DUI or DWI charges, it is imperative you speak to an experienced DUI lawyer.

We understand that no case is usually as cut and dry as a prosecutor wants you to believe. We can examine if the tests were administered properly or if there are constitutional grounds by which your charges should be dismissed. The tests, including the blood alcohol content tests must be administered and documented precisely, or they can be inadmissible.

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