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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia

A field sobriety test consists of several tasks which require a certain amount of coordination, balance and reflexes. There are no definite standard sub tests in the state of Virginia. Some of the subtests within the field sobriety test that are used are: standing on one leg, walking a straight line and turning around, holding out the arms and touch the nose, counting backwards, and saying the alphabet forward or backwards. The one leg stand test consists of asking the accused to stand on my leg with the other foot six inches off the ground. The accused should be instructed to count to thirty by thousands. In order to fail this subtest the officer must observe 2 of four indicators of impairment. Those indicators are (1) that the accused swayed for balance, (2) the accused hopped to maintain balance, (3) that the accused put their foot down early, and (4) that the accused had to use their arms to steady themselves.

The straight line test requires the accused to walk nine steps with one foot in front of the other, after nine steps they are to turn on one foot and walk back. For this test, if the officer notices two or more of that eight indicators of impairment they will conclude that the accused is impaired by alcohol, drugs or a combinations of the two. The indicators in for this test are: (1) taking too many or not enough steps, (2) using arms to balance while walking, (3) not touching the heel to the tow, (4) stopping while walking to regain balance, (5) not turning as instructed, (6) being unable to maintain balance while listening to the instructions, (7) stepping off the line while walking, and (8) beginning the test before the officer has finished the instructions. All field sobriety tests have similar indicators of impairment, but evidence of every subtest is not always admissible. What is and is not admissible will be called into questions by one’s defense attorney. Both sides will present their evidence and the judge will decide whether to admit the evidence at trial or not.

One will be asked to submit to a field sobriety test when they have been stopped and are suspected of driving under the influence. No one is required to submit to a field sobriety test, but if the officer making the stop has enough circumstantial evidence to form reasonable suspicion one may be arrested without a field sobriety test. The refusal of a field sobriety test cannot be admitted as evidence in a court proceeding; also, the results of a field sobriety test may not be commented on as evidence as to whether the accused is guilty or innocent, but some results can be used in court to establish probably cause to make an arrest.

A field sobriety test may be challenged and determining how they may be challenged differs depending on the type of subtests given. If someone is asked during a field sobriety test to stand on one leg that test may be challenged if the officer never asked if the defendant had any physical impairment. Further, any field sobriety test may be challenged on the grounds that the accused was unable to perform the task asked under any circumstances, sober or otherwise. The results of a field sobriety test are typically admitted as eye witness testimony by the arresting officer. The officer may also testify to the demeanor and physical appearance of the defendant. In most courts the results of a breath analysis are admissible at trial.


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