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Field Sobriety Tests in Arlington DUI Cases

Field sobriety tests, commonly known as FSTs or Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), refer to mental and physical tasks that are administered by law enforcement officers in order to gauge whether or not a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These field sobriety tests are a commonly used tool in Arlington DUI cases, just as in the rest of Virginia.

Common Field Sobriety Tests

There are a wide variety of field sobriety tests that often vary by locality and agency directives. The typical DUI stop with field sobriety tests may include as few as one or two FSTs or as many as five or six.

The most common field sobriety tests are those proved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. SFSTs include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test; the nine-step walk-and-turn test, also known as Walk the Line; and the One-Legged Stand Test.

Other examples of Field Sobriety Tests can include reciting the alphabet, counting forward to backwards, the finger dexterity test, touching your fingertip to the tip of your nose, and others.

What is the Origin of the Field Sobriety Test?

The origin of the field sobriety test is from a series of studies conducted in the early 1970s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA). DUIs were becoming an increasing public safety problem and gaining notoriety in both public schools and law enforcement agencies. At this time there were only very inaccurate ways to test if a person was committing a DUI.

The NHSTA thereby devised a series of tests, with the help of toxicologists and other alcohol experts, to test the sobriety of drivers. These tests were designed to be simple, quick, and easy to administered by an officer on the side of the road

Weight of an FST in Court

The field sobriety tests are given a variety of different weights depending on the nature and unique circumstances of the case. If the field sobriety tests are the main piece of incriminating evidence, they certainly will be given a lot more weight. If there was also a breath test administered and observations of the officers consistent with alcohol abuse or consumption, the weight of the field sobriety test in Arlington DUI cases will be less.

With that said, there are also certain protocols that govern the proper administration of field sobriety tests. Typically, how well the field sobriety tests protocol was followed decides the weight the tests are given in court and whether or not the test results are admissible.

Factors That May Impact How An Individual Performs

If an individual is anxious, nervous, has poor coordination, or has prior existing injuries, they may do worse on a field sobriety test than the amount of alcohol content would otherwise indicate. Very often, persons who are injured or simply do not have the ability to properly perform a field sobriety test will say they want to take the test, or comply with the officers request when in reality it is not a good decision for them to do it. That is one way that can be used against you. Another is by making statements that are not necessarily in your best interest.

Is it Legal to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test in Arlington?

You can and should refuse to perform field sobriety tests. The field sobriety tests are designed to indicate impairment; they are not designed to exonerate you if driving legally. The tests are calculated to divide your attention, and make it difficult to gauge what the officer is looking for. These tests that are not designed to make it easy on you and therefore it is never in your best interest to perform a field sobriety test.

Common Misconceptions

There are a variety of common misconceptions about DUI cases in Arlington. The first is that an individual has to perform a field sobriety test and has to perform a preliminary breath test. Both of these misconceptions are quite common and both are absolutely untrue. An individual does not have to do a field sobriety test and they do not have to do the PBT, and in fact should exercise their right to refuse.

The second most common misconception is that first offenders are typically punished lightly, if at all, and simply having one DUI charge does not mean that you necessarily warrant a conviction. This misconception is often shared by drivers who do not reside in the Commonwealth of Virginia and are not familiar with Virginia laws. Virginia and Arlington County do not offer pre-trial diversion programs in order to avoid a conviction. This unique statutory option is not available for Virginia DUI drivers and therefore it should be not assumed that they exist.

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