Field sobriety tests are standardized tests, meaning that they are used throughout the country. They were developed in the 1970s and 1980s and have been honed ever since. They are regulated by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). There have been scientific studies into certain field sobriety tests, and the level of indicators that the result of these tests give to police to determine whether somebody is under the influence of alcohol.
The field sobriety tests are taught at each police academy to almost every officer. Because they are standardized, most officers use the same ones, particularly within a jurisdiction. Field sobriety tests are often used in Arlington DUI cases. Consulting with an Arlington DUI attorney can clarify how these tests might be used in a given person’s case.
The tests administered typically involve the walk-and-turn test, which requires an individual to walk a certain number of steps out and back, the one-legged stand, a finger touch exercise, an alphabet test, and the horizontal gaze Nystagmus test, which refers to the involuntary jerking of a person’s eyes when he or she has consumed too much alcohol.
The police know to perform these tests in a certain manner, and the results of these tests provide indicators that someone is under the influence. Police are generally looking for a certain number of indicators, and when they have a sufficient number of those they will place an individual under arrest for DUI.
At a trial, field sobriety tests are given a lot of weight by the judges and jury. In cases where there is no alcohol blood certificate showing that the defendant had an elevated blood alcohol content above the legal limit, the field sobriety test many times serves as the sole evidence of their intoxication. The field tests are relied upon almost entirely by prosecutors and police when presenting the matter to the jury, along with the odor of alcohol, the individual’s admission of having consumed alcohol, or other indicators.
Essentially, the field sobriety tests come into play in every single DUI trial in Virginia. A person’s performance on the tests can often be the determining factor of whether or not they are convicted of DUI.
Every jurisdiction has slight modifications of the field sobriety test. Arlington has a couple of “unique” tests it likes to administer, which are not commonly administered in other jurisdictions. First, Arlington police ask an individual to perform the finger touch test, which requires the individual to touch his fingers to his thumb and count: one, two, three, four, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, four, three, two, one, with your forefingers going up and down. This test is unique to Arlington DUI cases, because most jurisdictions do not include this step.
Also, Arlington police always administer an alphabet test, which not every jurisdiction requires. The alphabet test has an individual recite the alphabet from one letter to another in a certain way, like from G to W for instance, backwards or forwards.
Aside from those few exceptions, field sobriety tests are standardized, and most jurisdictions use the same test and perform it in the same manner all across the country. These tests include the one-legged stand, the walk-and-turn, and the HGN test.
An individual can refuse to perform field sobriety tests, as well as preliminary breath tests in Virginia, and police cannot mandate that they take those tests. An individual’s refusal to take a test cannot be used against them in trial as evidence of guilt. However, it can be used against them in a probable cause determination, which is when courts assess why police placed the individual under arrest, and whether the arrest was legal.
During the probable cause determination, the court can look at the individual’s refusal to perform the test, and determine if their refusal gave the police evidence that they were under the influence because they were trying to hide or evade detection. Aside from their use in this preliminary determination, there is no penalty for an individual if they refuse to perform the tests.
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