What You Need to Know about Field Sobriety Tests
A night of fun can well turn into the start of a bad time. If you are stopped by a New Jersey police officer on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, your life could change. Often, it may begin when the officer requests you to get out of your car to perform roadside field sobriety tests.
Case and point: you’ve just spent the evening celebrating a job promotion with friends, food, and alcohol. Against your better judgment, you decide to drive home even though you’re not very roadworthy. Admittedly, you’ve imbibed more than a few shots and mixed drinks.
Before you realize it, lights and sirens are behind you, and you’re being stopped by a black and white from Elizabeth. Was it the swerving or the red light you ran that got the officer’s attention? Either way, the officer had a legitimate reason to stop you.
Once pulled over, the police officer observes you to determine if you are under the influence. You ask yourself whether you will have to take a field sobriety test. For that matter, you start to wonder what entitles the officer to ask you to take field sobriety tests in the first place.
Field Sobriety Tests
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 defines a New Jersey DWI and the penalties. The purpose of field sobriety tests is to determine whether a driver is impaired by testing his or her coordination.
According to standard protocol, if an officer requests a driver to exit the vehicle to perform a field sobriety test, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The officer will make this call based on what the person says, how the person gets out of the car, blurry eyes or slurred speech, or if there is any smell of alcohol or drugs.
This, however, is not probable cause for an officer to arrest the driver for drunk driving. In order to make an arrest, the driver has to fail to perform the field sobriety tests. The driver also has the right to refuse to perform a test, but refusal will almost certainly result in an arrest.
The three standard field sobriety tests recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are:
- The one leg stand. This 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. A driver’s arms need to remain by this or her sides.
- The walk and turn. A driver will place one foot in front of the other in a straight line with the heel of one foot touching the toes of the other, pivot on one foot, and turn around and go back to the starting point.
- The horizontal gaze. The officer will have the driver follow a pen or finger with their eyes while keeping their head still to see if there is erratic motion of the eye from side to side. (Notably, this test is not admissible in New Jersey.)
Also, officers might conduct other tests such as the reciting the alphabet or counting backward.
Field sobriety tests are not always reliable because a number of issues can hurt a driver’s ability to pass. In fact, if you have particular challenges with the test, an experienced DWI attorney may attempt to get the tests found inadmissible.
For example, you may be suffering from vertigo or some other disease that causes you to have balance issues. You might claim the officer was not objective. More often than not, the field sobriety test is just the first one.
In addition to field sobriety tests, a driver may be asked to take a breathalyzer or blood or urine test. A person is legally required to submit to these tests under New Jersey’s implied consent law because of one’s driving privileges. According to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4A, refusal to submit to a breath test comes with some significant penalties.
Ultimately, the prosecution has the burden of proof in these cases.
Were You Charged with DWI?
If you have been charged with DWI, you may want to challenge the results of your field sobriety tests or assert some other legal defense. We can help you. Call the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo now to schedule a consultation.