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Field Sobriety Test: Help or Hurt When Stopped for DUI in Virginia?

While out at night with a friend, you are pulled over by law enforcement. The lights in the rear-view are bright, and you are worried. The officer seems to think you have been drinking and asks you to step out the car and perform a field sobriety test. Should you refuse?

Standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and are used throughout the United States by police officers trying to assess sobriety. Unlike chemical and breath tests, where a refusal could result in a suspension of your license even if you aren’t driving under the influence, there is no legal requirement for you to consent to a STST, and you can legally refuse. In fact, here are a couple of reasons why it may be a good idea to refuse:

  • Poor performance on field sobriety tests is common. At a traffic stop, law enforcement officers are looking for probable cause to support their belief you are driving drunk. Age, previous injury, illness and certain medications can make performing physical tests on the side of the road, oftentimes at night, a challenge. Refusing to perform these tests does not provide additional evidence for your arrest.
  • Sobriety field tests must be conducted appropriately. If you choose to perform the tests and supposedly fail, the results, and the training of the officer who arrested you, may be legally challenged.
  • Without reasonable probable cause, law enforcement cannot legally arrest you. Refusal can be used as evidence to establish probable cause for your arrest in most cases.  However, if the breath test results are borderline, the lack of SFST may result in no arrest or pose a significant burden to a prosecutor down the line.

If arrested for DUI in Virginia, do not assume your guilt. Conviction means a criminal record. If facing drunk driving or other criminal charges, speak with experienced defense attorneys in Leesburg such as Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, P.C..

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