In New Jersey, the police will administer a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) if the officer believes you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The importance of this test cannot be understated. If an officer has probable cause that you are driving drunk, he or she will pull you over and administer a series of standardized field sobriety tests to confirm their suspicion which will lead to a drunk driving arrest.
Standardized Field Sobriety Test In A New Jersey DWI Traffic Stop
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are three tests that are acceptable in determining whether a motorist is intoxicated. These tests include:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
This test is the most accurate of the SFST. The officer administrating this test will have the accused follow a pen or finger with their eyes while keeping their head still. The officer will be looking to see if there is erratic motion of the eye from side to side, if the accused suffers from nystagmus which is repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements, and if the accused's eye starts to jerk before it has moved through a 45 degree angle.
Walk and Turn
The officer will explain the directions of this test and demonstrate the motion of the test before asking the driver to repeat their actions. The officer will instruct the driver to place one foot in front of the other in a straight line with the heel of one foot touching the toes of the other. The officer will ask the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn around and take another nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting point. The officer is observing the drivers ability to follow instructions, maintain their balance, touch their toes to their heels, inability to walk a straight line, the use of their arms for balance, improper turning, and the incorrect number of steps. If the officer observes two or more failures, they will have probable cause to arrest the person for drunk driving.
One Leg Stand
The one-leg stand consists of a driver standing for 30 seconds with one foot six inches off of the ground with their toe pointed, while looking at their foot and simultaneously counting by one-thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc). The test forces a person to divide their attention between the mental task of counting and following instructions, while trying to maintain the physical task of balancing. During the entire 30 seconds the person's arms need to remain by their sides and cannot be used for balance. The police officer will be observing if your foot touches the ground, swaying, hopping while trying to keep balance, the use of arms, and the ability to count accurately. Like the walk and turn, if the officer observes two or more failures, they can arrest you for drunk driving suspicion.
SFST May Be Enough Evidence For A Conviction In A NJ Drunk Driving Case
It is important to remember that you can be convicted for driving under the influence even if your breath test results indicate that you were under the legal blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.08%. If the arresting police officer testifies to his observations of you and the accuracy of the administration of the field sobriety tests, the municipal prosecutor may have enough evidence to convict you. This is where an attorney who is trained on the administration of these tests will be most useful. The problem with standardized field sobriety testing is that, drunk or not, you are likely to fail them. The unnatural stance you're placed in, with your right foot in front of your left, while anxiously listening to instructions on the side of the road with lights flashing in your face, it's a difficult task for even a sober driver.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing manual, validation of these tests only applies when (1) the tests are administered in the prescribed, standardized manner, (2) the standardized clues are used to assess the suspect's performance, and (3) the standardized criteria are employed to interpret that performance. Furthermore, the manual states that if ANY of the standardized field sobriety test elements are changed, the validity is compromised. Hiring an attorney trained on how to look for the right clues, criteria and standardization may result in the evidence being suppressed or not admitted at trial. Ultimately, it could lead to lessened penalties if convicted or maybe even total dismissal of your DWI charges.
Field Sobriety Tests Must Be Performed Accurately During A Drunk Driving Stop
As previously mentioned, a change in any element of the three SFST's may be fatal to the prosecutor's case against you. Hiring a NJ DWI lawyer who is trained on how to accurately give SFST's is extremely important. For example, if a police officer administers the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and fails to ask you to remove your eyeglasses, any result he receives will not be validated because the test requires that your glasses be removed. An attorney who is not trained on giving SFST's may miss what seems to be a small detail, when in fact that small detail could get your case completely dismissed.
Resources for Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
New Jersey DUI lawyer Carmine R. Villani, Esq. is certified in the administering of the standardized field sobriety tests and knows what to look for to in order to have the test results weakened or invalidated. For a FREE consultation on Sobriety Testing in New Jersey, call 732-965-3999 today! Servicing Monmouth County and Ocean County New Jersey.