You have just enjoyed a night of partying with your friends but make the unwise decision to get behind the wheel to drive home. You are pulled over by a New Jersey police officer. The officer suspects you have had a few too many and should not be driving. You are asked to exit the car to perform a roadside field sobriety test. The officer asks you to recite the alphabet to test your coordination and attention. You slur your speech and can’t remember your ABCs. All things considered, it’s not a good thing. You fail this non-standard field sobriety test and are arrested for drunk driving.
Overview of Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are used to determine whether a driver is impaired and help a police officer to decide if there is probable cause to arrest someone for driving while intoxicated.
Here’s how it begins. If the police request a driver to exit the vehicle to perform a field sobriety test, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 defines a New Jersey DWI and the penalties.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to detect driving impairment:
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test
- The walk-and-turn test
- The one-leg-stand test.
However, New Jersey police officers may use other tests that New Jersey courts may accept. These non-standardized tests include reciting the alphabet, the Romberg balancing test, counting backward, the finger-to-nose test, and the hand pat test. Whether a suspect fails any of these tests depends on an individual officer’s interpretation of how a suspect performs. Meanwhile, these field sobriety tests can be unreliable and challenged as part of an effective New Jersey DWI or DUI defense:
- Reciting the alphabet. Police will instruct an accused driver to say the alphabet in a particular manner, such as starting at a letter and ending at another letter. The officer is looking for the inability of the suspect to recite the alphabet correctly, slurred speech, and not being able to follow directions.
- The Romberg balancing test. This will test a driver’s balance. The officer will ask the driver to stand with feet together, head tilted slightly back and eyes closed. The driver will be asked to estimate when 30 seconds has passed, then say “stop” when it’s been that long. The police officer will watch for swaying, eyelid/body tremors, time passed, and ability to follow directions.
- Counting backward. When a police officer administers the counting backward test, he or she will instruct a driver to stand with legs together and arms at their side. The police officer will ask the driver to count random numbers backwards. The officer will look for the inability to follow directions, whether the person can count correctly, and balance.
- Finger-to-nose test. This is a common field sobriety test. The driver will be asked to bring the tip of their index finger up to touch the tip of the nose while their eyes are closed, and head tilted slightly back, similar to the Romberg test. The officer may ask the suspect to attempt this several times with each hand. The officer is looking for the subject’s ability to follow instructions, swaying, eyelid tremors and body/leg tremors, depth perception, and whether the subject successfully touches their nose with their index finger.
- The hand pat test. The officer will ask the suspect to extend one arm out, with the palm facing up, then place the other arm above it, the palm facing down. The driver then has to rotate both hands 180 degrees and count out loud before turning again, so the top palm touches the bottom palm.
These tests are open to subjectivity and inaccuracy. Other factors can influence the outcome of these tests, such as the if the suspect has any injuries or is taking medication, the environment, an unlit road, and a driver’s anxiety.
We can help challenge your field sobriety test results
If you have been charged with an alleged DWI based on a non-standard field sobriety tests, the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo can help you understand your rights and argue the results of these tests. If you failed your field sobriety test, call now for a free consultation. We are experienced New Jersey DWI attorneys and can prepare a strong defense for your case. Call today for a free consultation.