Your Virginia Legal Team

Field Sobriety Testing in Virginia DUI Cases 

Field sobriety testing in Virginia DUI cases come with all sorts of nuances. Upon suspicion of DUIs, law enforcement will have a person do field sobriety tests and they will walk the person through those one by one to confirm or dispel suspicions that the person might be under the influence.

A person can always decline field sobriety tests, which is recommended because they are not particularly helpful. There are three that are standardized and certified by NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. There is the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is a device pointed at a person’s eye to measure sobriety. To learn more about what steps to take at a DUI stop and the potential impact if can have on your case, call today.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

NHTSA states that as person’s blood alcohol concentration increases, more indications of intoxication will appear. Unfortunately, this type of test does not have a high rate of accuracy. It is only about 77% accuracy when done correctly, but it is almost never done correctly. I always advise to go find an attorney who knows a lot about this because field sobriety tests in Virginia DUI cases should not be presented as credible evidence that somebody had probable cause to arrest a person.

Next Steps in Sobriety Tests in Virginia

The next steps that law enforcement tend to check for sobriety are the walk-and-turn and stand on one leg or divided attention tests. Walk and turn is a test that was standardized by NHTSA. These two tests, however, are even less accurate than the horizontal gaze nystagmus when administered correctly, and that is 68% accuracy of assuring whether or not somebody is at 0.10 BAC or above.

Errors in Tests

There is a lot of room for discussion and for error in inaccurate tests, especially if the officer is not administering it correctly and not giving the instructions correctly. For the walk and turn, a person must take nine steps, back turn in a certain way, keep hands at their side, heel to toe, and count out loud to ensure their sobriety. If a person does not do this field sobriety test correctly or if they skip things, they could say, “combined with these other things I observed, it is enough to find probable cause or not find probable cause” in a Virginia DUI case.

One-Legged Stand

The one-legged stand is another test that is a divided attention test by NHTSA. A person would stand on one leg with the other leg held about six inches off the ground. This test, again, has 60% effectiveness. A person needs a lawyer who can examine the situation and claim that it was not administered correctly, which makes the test less credible.

Preliminary Breath Test

After the person does the field sobriety tests, they will offer the person a PBT, the Preliminary Breath Test, which is where the person blows into a device and it gives them a preliminary blood alcohol level. This test cannot be used against the person in court in the state of Virginia unless the attorney challenges probable cause, which they are always going to want to do. It is recommended that a person does not do the preliminary breath test.

At that point, if they find that there is probable cause to arrest a person, then law enforcement will arrest the person. If a person is driving on a highway, the person gives what is called implied consent to have their breath taken at the station, which means that the person has to submit to a breath sample at the station or else their license will be administratively suspended for one year.

Virginia Field Sobriety Test Defenses

Despite NHTA’s national standards, remember that field sobriety tests are not universally accurate. If the officer has not been trained to administer the test properly, or if the test is not given in an appropriate environment (level, dry ground with adequate lighting), the results can be flawed. In such instances, your field sobriety test results may be found inadmissible in court, which sometimes means the charge against you must be dismissed.

This is why drivers should carefully consider whether to respectfully decline any SFST. It is their right, and they should be mindful if they have any condition that could give the police officer a false impression.

One important point to remember is that the officer administering the test has made an initial judgment that the driver might be under the influence of some form of intoxicant.  With this pre-formed judgment, it is possible the officer could misread clues simply because he or she might be looking for something that isn’t really there.  The results of the SFSTs are compromised if the officer deviates from the standardized procedures, and mistakes are easily – and often – made.

Additionally, during their training, memorizing all the details of how to properly administer field sobriety tests is just one of many procedures that officers must accomplish.  So, it is not unusual for them to forget details of administering SFSTs.  When that happens, it’s usually done unintentionally.

However, the NHTSA training manual is clear that any deviations from standard testing procedures compromise the validity of the tests.  But mistakes are still mistakes, and the law cannot allow mistakes in procedure to compromise evidence.

Remember, failing a field sobriety test does not always mean you were intoxicated.  Unlike blood and breath alcohol testing, sobriety tests are highly subjective.  There’s really no scientific way to determine whether or not you were actually under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time the test was administered because they’re based on personal subjectivity rather than factual data.

Hiring a Lawyer

There are different factors that officers look for in different stages of the DUI process, examination, and arrest. Each of them is complicated and specialized. Having an attorney who is able to effectively look through the sobriety test evidence, take it apart, and then cross-examine the officers is extremely important for Virginia DUI cases.Call an attorney today.

Contact Us

Do not send us confidential information related to you or your company until you speak with one of our attorneys and get authorization to send that information to us.

Copyright 2024 Virginia Criminal Lawyer. All rights reserved. Disclaimer/Privacy Policy