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Field Sobriety Tests (Part B)

Nystagmus

The quickest field sobriety test that an officer can administer is called the nystagmus test. This procedure is more commonly known as the "eye test."

During a nystagmus test, the police officer will place a finger, pencil, or a similar object about 6 inches from your nose. They will then slowly move the object from side to side to see how your eyes follow its progress. If your eyes appear to tremble or jerk, then you will "fail" this field sobriety test.

Standing On One Leg

You might be asked to get out of your vehicle and stand on one leg for a brief period of time. The officer will attempt to judge your sense of balance, which may be impaired if you were drinking - OR if you happen to have lousy balance, the ground is uneven, you are wearing high heels, or a variety of other factors that have nothing to do with driving under the influence.

In addition to standing on one leg, the officer may ask you to do any of the following:
 

  • focus on a specific spot (the officer's flashlight, a road sign, the police car, etc.)
  • count out a number of seconds using "thousands" (one thousand, one, one thousand two...)
  • count forward or backward from one number to another using various intervals (example: count backward from 100 to 70 using every third number [100, 97, 94...])
  • bend over and pick up an object from the ground 

If the officer observes you swaying or falling, you may be arrested for driving under the influence, even if you are actually sober.

Walk and Turn

The walk and turn test is designed to detect a decrease in both motor skills and balance.
The officer may have you stand on a line (the white line on a road's shoulder, for instance) and walk a certain number steps forward, then turn around and walk back. But the steps will have to be heel to toe - each step will require you to touch your heel of one foot to the toe of the other.

Though this test sounds easy, you will fail if you:
 

  • step off the line
  • leave space between your heel and toe during your steps
  • lose count of how many steps you take
  • sway or fall over 

Once again, these small mistakes are easy to make, even if you haven't been drinking. Your performance can be influenced by any number of factors unrelated to drinking or using drugs.

The Finger-to-Nose Test

Another field sobriety test combining coordination and balance is the finger-to-nose test
. This will involve standing straight with your feet together, extending your arms laterally from your side, and then touching your finger to your nose with one hand and then the other.

Again, this may sound like a simple test. But the officer will be watching to see if you shake or tremble, miss your nose, or lose your balance.

Rhomberg Balance

You may have heard the Rhomberg balance test by another name, such as the tilt-your-head-back test.
Like the finger-to-nose test, the officer asks you to stand erect with your feet together. But instead of touching your nose, you will be asked to tilt your head back, close your eyes, and remain that way for what you perceive to be 30 seconds.

The officer will monitor you to see if you:
 

  • lose your balance
  • sway, tremble, or rock
  • inadequately estimate the passage of time 

As you can see by the subjective nature of these tests, it's incredibly easy for someone to "fail," even while completely sober. Police officers can often misinterpret simple missteps as evidence of intoxicated behavior, particularly if they have preconceived ideas about your sobritety. It's imperative that you talk to an experienced Virginia DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible after a DUI arrest in order to fight these often unjust charges.

The penalties for DUI in Virginia are too severe to permit courts to ‘look the other way' when police officers make errors. However, there is one certainty at a DUI trial - the DUI defendant cannot prevail on an issue his lawyer fails to recognize and raise!

If you have been arrested for DUI in Virginia, there is no time to waste! Contact Virginia DUI Lawyer Bob Battle to schedule your legal consultation today - 804-673-5600

Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts