The Law Office of Robert D. Anderson, PLLCFormer Chief Prosecutor Of Loudoun County
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Beware of seemingly innocent police requests during DUI stops

There are a number of tactics police in Virginia might use to gain an edge to support an arrest. Even if it the charge is one for drunk driving that might be a misdemeanor, the consequences of a conviction are such that it is worth being wary if you are stopped.

For example, it is not unusual for an officer to ask, "Have you had anything to drink tonight?" Before you even have time to think you might come out with something like, "Only a little." Another question that might be posed to you but probably shouldn't is, "Could you recite the alphabet backwards?"

This amounts to fishing expeditions by the authorities and the thing that is easy to forget is that when questioned by police you have the right to remain silent. Failing to do so could result in you incriminating yourself. And (you know what's coming) anything you say could be used against you in a court of law.

There are certain field sobriety tests that have come to be widely used by police to support claims of probable cause when they suspect alcohol impairment. Asking you to recite the alphabet backwards is not one of them.

Those that have come to be accepted in many courts and which are endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test. This is the one where you're asked to follow a moving object with your eyes. Our eyes naturally jerk when we do this. The jerking is exaggerated if we're alcohol impaired.

  • The one-leg stand. If you can't hold your foot off the ground six inches for about 30 seconds without swaying or losing your balance, you may be thought to be impaired.

  • Walk and turn. This is the heal-to-toe walk along a straight line, a turn and then the return walk.

Failing one of the tests could result in an arrest, but it might not be a requirement for being taken into custody. And if it can be shown that the tests were conducted improperly, it could be grounds to question if there was probable cause.

Some attorneys offer initial misdemeanor charge consultations for free. If it costs nothing to learn what your options are for protecting your rights, doesn't make sense to get the education?

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