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Can a Virginia driver refuse to perform field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2024 | DUI

Motorists who have driven for years sometimes no longer recall the details of Virginia traffic statutes. They might then make mistakes during an interaction with the police officer that could increase their risk of criminal prosecution.

There are very clear limitations on what police officers can demand during a traffic stop. For example, they cannot require chemical testing unless they have already established probable cause to believe that someone is under the influence. Often, the process of obtaining that probable cause involves having a driver perform field sobriety tests.

Someone’s performance on field sobriety tests can help confirm an officer’s suspicion that someone is under the influence and could provide evidence that a prosecutor might later use to justify charging someone. Does a Virginia police officer have the authority to compel someone to perform field sobriety tests?

Field sobriety tests are not mandatory

Most people believe that they have to comply with the requests of a police officer, but there are limits to what an officer can demand of someone during a traffic stop. People who don’t fully remember the rules about traffic stops might mistakenly believe that officers can arrest them if they refuse to perform field sobriety tests because of implied consent rules.

Virginia does have an implied consent law that essentially compels people to undergo chemical testing in certain situations or risk additional penalties. However, that law does not also apply to field sobriety testing. Drivers generally have the right to decline field sobriety testing when an officer asks them to physically demonstrate their sobriety.

A driver does not have to stand on one leg, walk in a straight line or perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus test during a traffic stop. Their refusal to perform those tests should not result in any penalties. Many drivers conflate the rules about chemical testing with the rules for field sobriety testing. They might subject themselves to unnecessary scrutiny and give the officer grounds to demand additional testing.

Motorists who understand their rights are usually in a better position to avoid legal complications. Refusing a field sobriety test should not automatically lead to someone’s arrest or worsen the penalties they face when accused of drunk driving in Virginia.

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