NJ Standardized Field Sobriety Testing

NJ Standardized Field Sobriety Testing

When an individual faces a DWI charge as a result of a failed breathalyzer or field sobriety test, then it is essential that the arresting officer had “reasonable suspicion” to administer the sobriety test in the first place. Reasonable suspicion is a standard of proof that must be demonstrated by an arresting officer and the state in order to obtain a verdict against a suspected drunk driver. If the state fails to establish this standard, then there is effectively no case against the driver. However, reasonable suspicion is not a terribly difficult standard for the state to overcome, as the arresting officer need only provide “a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the defendant is under the influence of alcohol.” There are many factors that can contribute to an officer’s suspicion, including but not limited to:

  • Verbal clues
  • The physical appearance of the driver (e.g. bloodshot eyes)
  • The smell of alcohol or drugs in the car or on the driver
  • Other physical indicators (e.g. difficulty handling documentation)

Once the officer observes these verbal or nonverbal cues, she will then ask the driver to step out of the vehicle in order to perform various standardized field sobriety tests. One of the initial tests typically performed is the “reverse alphabet.” Another test commonly utilized is to count down from a stated number in reverse. For example, the officer will tell the driver to count down from 32 and stop at 9. Many times, an intoxicated driver will forget to stop and count down to the number one.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN) is a common Field Sobriety Test that is typically conducted by law enforcement when investigating a DWI offense. The police officer will hold an object such as a flashlight vertically about one foot from the driver’s face slightly above eye level. The driver is then told to keep his or her head completely still while following the object only with the eyes. The administrator will then move the object slowly from side to side. The object of the test is to determine if the eye can maintain focus on the object or is “jerking” or “bouncing” side to side. This is because alcohol affects our brains’ ability to control our eyes and eye muscles. Therefore, it consumption of alcoholic beverages will often result in increased jerking or bouncing of the eyes. An individual is likely to fail the test once it is clear that the eyes are not following the object steadily.

The Walk and Turn Test

A very common method of observing field sobriety is the “Walk and Turn” test. The driver is simply asked to “walk a straight line”. The driver is told to stand on a line with the feet in a heel to toe position, left foot in front of the right. The driver is then asked to keep arms at the sides, listen to the complete instructions, and he or she should not begin until told to do so. Then, the driver is instructed to take nine steps along the straight line, heel to toe, while counting the steps out loud and watching his or her feet. Then the driver is asked to turn around and return to the starting point in the same manner. The driver will fail the walk and turn test for various reasons, including: starting the test before the instructions are completed or they are told to begin, failure to maintain balance while listening to instructions, needs to steady self, inability to touch heel to toe, loses balance while walking resulting in stepping off of the line, using arms for balance, etc.

The One-Leg Stand Test:

This self-explanatory test is failed when the driver sways while balancing, uses arms to balance, hops, rests foot, an cannot do test.

New Jersey DWI Lawyer with Unique Credentials

If you have been pulled over and subsequently arrested for a  DWI in New Jersey as a result of failing a standardized field sobriety test in Middlesex County including the towns of Edison, South Amboy, North Brunswick, Sayreville, Piscataway, and North Brunswick then it is in your best interest to hire a capable DUI Lawyer. Will Proetta, our firm’s founding attorney actually a certified field sobriety instructor! This expertise allows our lawyers to scrutinize law enforcement’s actions for the slightest mistake or technicality. For free initial consultation contact  William Proetta Criminal Law at (732) 659-9600 or stop by our conveniently located Edison office.