What are Virginia Field Sobriety Tests, and why do they matter?

If you’re a Virginia driver, you need to know about Field Sobriety Tests.  Should law enforcement stop you for drunk driving, they will request that you take Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs).  Before you find yourself in this situation, here’s information you need to know:

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

FSTs are purported “scientific” and “objective” tests to determine whether you are impaired from alcohol.  Law enforcement typically requests that you take FSTs when they stop you while driving and are investigating you for drunk driving.

During that traffic stop, they will ordinarily request that you exit your vehicle and comply with FSTs to “show that you’re not drunk.”   Here is a list of typical FSTs:

  • One Leg Stand: They will ask you to stand with your feet squared up with your shoulders.  They will then ask that you raise one of your legs for a period of seconds with your arms to your side.  Should you sway, raise your arms, or put your raised leg down, they will count this against you.
  • 9 Step Walk and Turn: They will create a “line” meant for you to walk on straight.  They will give you instructs to take nine steps “heel to toe” and not to step off that line.  And they will show you how to turn once you’re nine steps out and walk nine steps back.  Should you step off the line, not walk heel to toe, sway, or not turn the way they think is acceptable, they will count this against you.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: They will ask you to follow an object (be it a pen, their finger, etc.) with your eyes as they move it horizontally.  Should your eyes making “jumping” motions, they will count this against you.
  • Preliminary Breath Test:  From their cruiser, they will take a PBT and ask you to blow in it.  Should you register alcohol on your breath, they will use this against you. 

To be clear, these are just a few tests law enforcement uses.  Some use other types of tests that they claim are also “scientific” and “objective.”  They will also use other observations they note while you take these tests against you, such as “slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, confused responses” and others to assert that you demonstrated signs of impairment. 

How do they use the results of these tests?

Should they ultimately arrest and charge you with a Virginia DUI, they will use their “findings” to establish you were drunk driving.  Most will write down their findings and put them in their police reports.  In many jurisdictions, they will record your tests on their cruiser video, which (if they look bad for you) they will play at court to establish that you were drunk driving. 

Am I required to take these tests?

Under Virginia law, and US Constitutional Law, you are not required to give evidence against yourself.  Therefore, you are permitted to refuse any or all of these FSTs.  Because of the non-scientific nature of these tests, we believe that they are typically harmful to your case, and we’d recommend asserting your 5th Amendment Right to Remain Silent. 

I thought I was required to take a Breath Test under Virginia Law?

This is a big misconception. There is no requirement that you take the Preliminary Breath Test on the side of the road when being investigated for DUI here in Virginia. 

There is, however, a requirement that you take the breath test back at the police station under certain circumstances.  Should you refuse to take this test, you may be charged with Civil Refusal, which can lead to an automatic suspension of your privilege to drive here in Virginia for a year.

The two should not be confused, however.

Do you have more questions about your Virginia DUI?  Reach out.

Abrenio Law has been defending DUI cases for over a decade.  Should you have questions, give us a call for your FREE Consultation at Ph. 703-570-4180You can also check out Northern Virginia DUI Attorney James Abrenio here.