Field sobriety tests are standardized tests that are taught to police officers at the Police Academy when they go through training. It was developed in the 1980’s and ‘90s by the National Highway Transportation Safety Board and the tests are now standardized throughout the state, however, many jurisdictions use a slight variation.
As a Fairfax DUI lawyer can tell you, they are typically used in every arrest for DUI’s in certain jurisdictions and are typically performed the same way within each jurisdiction. They are tests that are designed to observe whether you are under the influence of alcohol based upon observations about coordination, listening ability and the ability to perform with divided attention.
Police are trained to look for clues. They use those clues to make determinations about the probable cause to arrest, which ultimately, they can. Your performance in the field sobriety test can also be used against you in court to prove that you’re guilty of the DUI offense.
The tests vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but in general in Virginia, what you’re looking at as far as field sobriety tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand the test.
The first one typically is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. This is a test in which the officer holds a pen a certain distance from your eyes. When you are under the influence of alcohol, your eyes involuntary jerk at a certain angles.
Even though you don’t know it’s happening, if you are under the influence your eye will be doing and it would be observable to a police officer or anyone else who looks into your eyes. Essentially involuntary motion of the eyes is what police are looking for with this test. However, there are some other factors that can lead to this movement, and officers do not always track the indicators correctly.
Typically after that test, the officer will ask you to do some coordination test which typically is the walk and turn test. In that test, the officer is looking for you to put your feet, your heel to your toe, and walk 9 steps out, perform a turn in a certain way and walk 9 steps back. They’re looking for clues along the way to see how you perform on those.
After the walk and turn test, the officer will typically have you do the one leg stand test where they will have you put your arms down by your side, put one leg above the other approximately 6 inches up the ground. And then they will ask you to stand there on one foot to put off the ground and your arms by your side for a period of 30 seconds. Sometimes the officers count. Sometimes they ask you to count.
After that, they will typically ask you to do alphabet test which will be to recite up or have them perform certain letter to some certain letter. Typically, a testing like B to N or B to V and focusing your performance on that.
They also often do the finger dexterity test which is having you count on one hand, touch your finger to your thumb and count up to a certain number and then back down to zerio. They’ll have you do two cycles of that. Essentially, they’ll be looking to see whether your fingers striking your other finger and whether you’re counting correctly and following instructions.
Those are the typical tests. In addition, you will probably be asked to blow in to the preliminary breath test which is also a standardized field sobriety test, type of machine in to which you blow those measures your blood alcohol content to determine whether you have alcohol in your system.
Field sobriety tests have to be performed in accordance with the way law enforcement officials are trained to conduct them. With that said, however, even if they are performed pretty closely, any evidence of intoxication can still be used and will be given significant weight in any Virginia court including Fairfax.
In court, judges rely on field sobriety tests often, and can even convict people based on field sobriety tests alone.
You are within your legal rights to refuse field sobriety tests if you so choose. The officer may not tell you that you can refuse them but it is still within your legal rights to do so, and if you insist on refusing, law enforcement must abide by that.