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Can you refuse sobriety tests in Virginia?

When a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of drinking and driving, it is likely they will ask you to complete several field sobriety tests or a breath test, possibly both.

You are not the only one in this situation. According to MADD, police arrest over 3,000 people for driving under the influence each day. Often, officers can make it seem like you do not have a choice to take the tests, but is that really true?

Field sobriety tests

You can, in fact, refuse performing field sobriety tests. These tests include:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): When an officer checks your eyes for involuntary movement. Police can see this type of eye movement in intoxicated individuals.
  • Walk-and-turn: The walk and turn test not only tests your ability to walk in a straight line, turn around and walk back, but it also tests your level of concentration. A sober individual may not need to concentrate on walking as much as a drunk person.
  • One-leg stand: Like the name suggests, this test requires the individual in question to stand with one leg up, while the officer watches to see if they put their foot down or need to use additional help to balance.

You are not legally required to take these tests. In fact, studies have questioned the accuracy of these tests. The NHTSA states that police officers’ error rate for detecting if an individual is intoxicated is 47 percent.

Chemical tests

Unlike field sobriety tests, you cannot refuse chemical testing. Virginia has an implied consent law. This means that if an officer has cause to pull you over for driving under the influence, you have consented to chemical testing. Chemical testing includes breath, blood and urine analysis. 

It can be stressful when the police pull you over, but making sure you know which tests you do and do not have to take may help your case.

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