A DWI can happen to anyone, even the most conscientious drivers. And it happens far too often. Perhaps you down a few drinks while out with some friends and you head home instead of a catching an Uber because you feel capable of getting home safely. Before you know it, you see those flashing blue and red lights coming up behind you.
The minute you're pulled over on suspicion of a DWI, understand that an officer is vigilantly looking for signs of impairment. If this hunch is strong, the officer may request that you undergo certain types of tests in an effort to establish probable cause and arrest you.
Field sobriety tests are an important aspect DWI case, and the results will vastly influence the outcome. If you've been charged with a DWI in New Jersey, you probably have questions about the types of tests and the bearing they will have on your case. The Lento Law Firm will give you a broad overview of everything you need to know about field sobriety tests.
Standardized and Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are administered to motorists when an officer suspects they are intoxicated or otherwise impaired while driving. These tests challenge a driver's balance, memory, coordination, motor skill and ability to focus. They are usually conducted before breath and blood tests.
The results of a field sobriety test can lead a police officer to conclude that you were driving under the influence of an unlawful amount of drugs and/or alcohol in his or her system. If you fail a test, this could be enough to establish probable cause to justify your arrest.
Standardized tests are endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The administration has authorized three field sobriety tests that supposedly accurately predicts impairment in testers. These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking reaction that occurs our eyes gaze. However, this reaction is intensified when someone is impaired by alcohol. To assess if a person is intoxicated, an officer will pass a hand-held object - a flashlight, a pen etc. - in front of a motorist's face and instruct them to follow the object with their eyes. When doing so, officers will be looking for very specific indicators of impairment, like distinct and exaggerated jerking, if the jerking onset is angled, and if your eyes aren't able to follow the object smoothly.
If multiple signs appear at once while the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is being conducted, an officer now has a valid reason to assume you are impaired and have a BAC of .10% or higher.
The Walk-and-Turn Test
Law enforcement conducts this test by ordering a driver to place their hands firmly at their sides and walk nine steps in a straight line in heel-to-toe fashion. Then the motorist must turn around and repeat these steps while walking back. During the test, an officer is trained to look for the following signs of impairment:
- Turning improperly
- Raising your arms to stay balanced
- Stepping out of line
- Not touching heel to toe
- Beginning the test before the instructions are finished
- Taking an incorrect number of steps
The NHTSA states that if two or more of the above signs are exhibited during a test, there is a high chance that a motorist's BAC is above the legal limit (0.08%).
One-Leg Stand Test
The one-leg stand test, also known as the “divided attention” test, requires a motorist to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground with their hands firmly planted at their sides. Some officers have been known to request you to count while doing so, while others may not. If an officer sees a driver sway while attempting to balance, hop up and down, put their foot down several times to steady themselves or otherwise struggle to complete the test, an officer now has a valid reason to conclude they are the suspected motorist is impaired.
Non-standardized field sobriety tests are also frequently administered by officers. These include asking drivers to recite their ABCs, count the fingers that are being held, or to recite numbers backwards.
The Validity of Field Sobriety Tests
The results of field sobriety tests are admissible in court in DUI cases. Despite this fact, experts and attorneys still question if these tests are an accurate method of determining impairment. The answer is no, according to many researchers.
At first, field sobriety tests didn't help officers correctly gauge impairment like they were intended to do. A study conducted by the Southern California Research Institute (SCRI) concluded that officers only correctly assessed an individual's impairment 47% of the time. This means that nearly half the time an officer could provide a false assessment that would be held against them in court.
NHTSA ordered the institute to conduct tests again after all officers were trained again in issuing standardized tests. And the studies revealed that there was an improvement, but not enough for many experts and legal professionals to believe the tests are accurate methods of assessing improvement.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
The results of field sobriety tests are crucial to the outcome of your case. But if it's proven that an officer conducted these tests improperly or his or her actions strayed from protocol, there's a good chance your charges will be reduced or even dismissed.
All the more reason that you should contact a seasoned criminal defense attorney. The sooner a legal representative can get on your case, the more time they have to build a solid defense. In New Jersey, a DWI is an offense that requires skilled and aggressive representation.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and credentials to defend and counsel people who've acquired DWI charges. He will explain your pending charges, build a solid defense and work towards getting your charges reduced or dropped. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm either online or by phone at 888-535-3686.