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Driving under the influence of alcohol: Field sobriety tests

A field sobriety test is a tool used by police officers to enforce drunk driving laws. It is normally administered before giving a Breathalyzer test when a person is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. If an officer in Virginia suspects that a motorist is impaired due to alcohol consumption, then he or she will usually instruct the motorist to perform a three-part sobriety test.

The purpose of the sobriety test is to allow the officer to gauge the ability of the driver to stay balanced, as well as observe his or her attention level and physical ability. The officer can then use these factors to determine if the individual is exhibiting behavior that is consistent with someone who is driving impaired. Essentially, the purpose of administering a field sobriety test is to ensure that if a person is arrested and charged with a DUI offense, the arresting officer can be shown to have had probable cause.

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test is comprised of three parts. The first part is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which tests for exaggerated involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs when the eye gazes to the side when a person is intoxicated. The second part is called the walk-and-turn test, which tests a motorist's ability to complete tasks while his or her attention is divided. Typically, a motorist is required to take nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion along a straight line. Then he or she is instructed to turn on one foot and return to his or her starting position walking in a heel-to-toe fashion once more.

The third and final part of the test is referred to as the one-leg stand. The motorist is instructed to lift one foot above the ground about 6 inches while counting for 30 seconds. If a motorist exhibits an impaired balancing ability or is unable to complete the test, it is usually taken as an indicator for impairment.

Field sobriety tests may seem daunting, and many may feel that there is no way to mount a defense. However, there are many ways that an experienced criminal defense attorney can have drunk driving charges reduced or dropped. Seeking the counsel of an experienced legal professional in Virginia could save someone accused of driving under the influence of alcohol from significant fines, the loss of driving privileges and other negative repercussions.

Source: FindLaw, "Field Sobriety Tests", Accessed on Oct. 10, 2016

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