Is Refusing to Take a Field Sobriety Test an Admission of Guilt?

May 20, 2024
police officer giving a field sobriety test to a drunk driver

In the moments following a traffic stop that may lead to a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, the decisions you make can significantly impact the outcome of your case. One crucial choice is whether to submit to field sobriety tests (FSTs) offered by law enforcement. Many individuals wonder if refusing these tests is seen as an admission of guilt. Let’s delve into the matter, and remember that if you’re facing such a situation, seeking legal guidance from Rudolphi Law is essential.

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are crucial tools used by law enforcement to assess whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests involve a series of physical and cognitive exercises designed to gauge impairment.

Walk-and-Turn Test

This test assesses a person’s ability to follow instructions and perform tasks that require divided attention. The individual is asked to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. Officers look for signs of impairment, such as inability to stay on the line, starting before the instructions are finished, stopping while walking to regain balance, not touching heel-to-toe, using arms to balance, making an improper turn, or taking the incorrect number of steps.

One-Leg Stand Test

In this test, the driver is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down, which should last 30 seconds. The officer watches for signs of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping, and putting the foot down.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

This test involves following an object with the eyes (like a pen or index finger) to determine characteristic eye movement reaction to stimulation. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the pupils, which becomes exaggerated under the influence of alcohol or certain drugs. Officers look for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of the center.

While these tests are designed to indicate impairment, it’s important to note they are not foolproof and can be subjective, heavily reliant on the officer’s interpretation. Environmental factors, physical conditions, and nervousness can also affect the results.

Is Refusal an Admission of Guilt?

Refusing to take field sobriety tests is not legally considered an admission of guilt. In Virginia, as in many states, you have the right to decline these tests without your refusal being used explicitly against you in court to prove DUI/DWI charges. This legal stance is crucial because it protects individuals from self-incrimination based on subjective assessments. However, it’s essential to differentiate between FSTs and chemical tests, such as breath, blood, or urine analysis. Virginia’s implied consent laws mean that drivers have implicitly agreed to submit to chemical testing by operating a vehicle on state roads, and refusal to comply can result being charged with Unreasonable Refusal. This only applies to the evidentiary tests and not to the preliminary breath test, which is done on scene and may be refused just like FSTs.

Legal Implications of Refusal

When a driver refuses FSTs, this decision removes the possibility for law enforcement to gather immediate, observational evidence of impairment. Although this could be seen as advantageous to the driver, it also eliminates a potential opportunity to demonstrate sobriety at the time of the stop. The decision to refuse FSTs must be made with an understanding of the potential legal implications and the specific circumstances at hand.

It’s worth noting that the refusal to perform FSTs does not mean automatic exemption from arrest if the officer has other grounds for suspicion of DUI/DWI, such as observable signs of intoxication or erratic driving behavior. However, without the FSTs, the prosecution’s case might rely more heavily on the officer’s subjective observations and any chemical test results if obtained. For a deeper understanding of how a refusal impacts your specific case, work with a criminal defense attorney in Fairfax, VA.

Choose Rudolphi Law for DUI Defense

Deciding not to participate in field sobriety tests is not a sign of guilt but a choice within your rights. In such challenging times, having the support of Rudolphi Law, your trusted Virginia criminal defense lawyer, is invaluable. Our deep understanding of DUI laws and commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients make us the ideal partner in your defense. If you’re facing DUI charges, don’t hesitate to reach out for the formidable defense you deserve. Contact Rudolphi Law today and ensure your rights are vigorously defended.