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Are You Allowed to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Virginia?

Yes, you are permitted to refuse a field sobriety test in Virginia. While law enforcement officers commonly use these tests to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest, there is no legal obligation for you to comply with the request.

Be aware, however, that refusal may arouse suspicion and could possibly result in your arrest if the officer has other reasons to believe you may be impaired. Courts in Virginia are allowed to consider your refusal to conduct field sobriety tests against you, but many judges won’t. If you have been arrested for a DUI after refusing to take a field sobriety test, we encourage you to contact an attorney for guidance on how this might affect your case.

What Are Some of the Issues with Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests encompass a variety of exercises designed to assess an individual's physical and cognitive capabilities. However, field sobriety tests have been scrutinized in recent years due to concerns about their accuracy and subjectivity. Critics argue that these tests may misclassify sober individuals as impaired, leading to unjust arrests and potential legal consequences.

Here are a few examples of common field sobriety tests:

  1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: This involves the officer moving a small object, like a pen or flashlight, side to side in front of the person’s eyes. The officer will look for involuntary jerking of the eyes, which can indicate impairment.
  2. Walk-and-Turn Test: The person is instructed to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. The officer will watch for balance issues, inability to stay on the line, or other signs of impairment.
  3. One-Leg Stand Test: The person is required to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count out loud until the officer instructs them to put their foot down. Signs of impairment could include swaying, hopping, or putting their foot down.
  4. Finger-to-Nose Test: The person must close their eyes and touch the tip of their nose with the tip of their finger. This test checks for motor function and balance.

A big issue with these tests is that they are not foolproof and are often subjective based on the administering officer's judgment. Furthermore, mistakes in conducting these tests can also lead to inaccurate results.

What to Do If You Fail a Field Sobriety Test but Aren't Impaired?

Being arrested for a DUI despite being unimpaired can be a distressing experience. It's critical to remember that field sobriety tests are not infallible, and various factors could lead to a false positive. If you find yourself in this situation, try to stay as calm and composed as possible. Remember, anything you say can be used against you in court, so we encourage you to politely decline to answer questions until you speak with an attorney.

It's important to note that there are numerous situations where an unimpaired person could fail a field sobriety test, such as:

  • Certain Medical Conditions
  • Age
  • Stress or Anxiety
  • Poor Instructions or Test Administration
  • Certain Medications

An attorney experienced in handling Virginia-based DUI cases can provide advice and represent you throughout your case. They can review the specifics of your case, including the field sobriety test results, and help you devise the best strategy for your defense.

A failed field sobriety test doesn't guarantee a DUI conviction. You have the right to defend yourself, and with the help of an attorney, like Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law, you may be able to challenge the validity of the test results.

If you were arrested on suspicion of a DUI after refusing or failing a field sobriety test, contact our firm to discuss your legal options.