Impact of Field Sobriety Tests in Court

If you have been pulled over and asked to take a field sobriety test in Virginia, there are a number of things you should consider before taking the test. This includes information on how the tests need to be administered, how much weight they are given in court, and whether you will face additional penalties for refusing. For more specific information regarding your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Manassas DUI lawyer today.

Administration of Field Sobriety Tests

The three standardized field sobriety tests must follow a very specific protocol that each officer is trained to administer. If the tests are not administered in the way in which the officers were trained, then arguably the result of the inappropriately administered test is not credible and likely not worth much.

For example, if a person is required to perform a field sobriety test on a surface angled at a steeper degree than what is approved by NHTSA, then the person’s defense attorney can argue that the test results do not show what it is intended to show because the test is much more difficult than it should be. Therefore, the test does not tend to show anything of consequence for the court. There are a number of other examples of how field sobriety tests can be skewed to the point where the court will not consider the results if they were not administered the right way.

Weight of Field Sobriety Tests in Court

The weight of the tests depends entirely upon what happened after the person has been arrested. If the person been arrested and submits to a breath test or a blood test, and the commonwealth has that evidence that tends to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the field tests are typically used in conjunction with other evidence preceding the arrest to challenge whether or not probable cause existed for the arrest. The probable cause examination is done by the court on the trial date and generally looks at the totally of circumstances surrounding the arrest. The court will consider driving behavior, any statements made by the accused, and any observations made by the officer about the accused, such as the odor of alcohol and bloodshot, glassy eyes. The really important thing that the judges always look for, however, is the performance on field sobriety tests. If an individual performs short of perfectly, the field test will lead most judges to conclude that the officer did have probable cause.

If, however, there is no chemical test at the end of this road, then in many cases, the field sobriety tests are the strongest piece of evidence that the government has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the weight afforded to field sobriety tests at trial depends on whether the person submitted to a breath test or a blood test.

Refusal of Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia

A person absolutely has the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests. There is no statute on the books that compels a person to do these things. However, refusal to do so can be held against you at trial. The government can make the argument that a person refused to submit to those tests because that person was afraid of failing due to their impairment.

So the short answer is that you can absolutely refuse, but whether that is a good idea is sort of a coin toss. If you think you’re going to do really badly and can offer an explanation as to why (leg injury, or other physical impairment), then it might be in your best interest to refuse to them. But if you think that you might do well enough or at least come close, then it might be in your best interest to go ahead and do them.