The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognizes three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests “SFSTs” which are used to test for intoxication for DWI detection. When a suspected drunk driver is pulled over police will first make contact with the driver and if the driver exhibits signs of intoxication such as an odor of alcohol and blood shot droopy eyes they will be asked to step out of the car for further testing. The field tests are designed to test the individual’s multi-tasking ability and physical dexterity. If an individual has consumed alcohol their ability to perform these tests becomes impaired. Officers will normally conduct all three standardized tests and even some tests such as the reciting ABC’s. A police officer will then carefully document any indicators or clues that the defendant fails during each test. These clues will be cumulatively weighed and assessed against the suspected drunk driver to ascertain whether they should make an arrest or not. If the state fails to establish this standard, then there is effectively no case against the driver. It is important to note that you are under no legal duty to perform SFST’s and you are allowed to refuse to perform them in New Jersey so the evidence cannot be used against you. However, you are under a duty to take the Alcotest (breathalyzer) if asked to do so, otherwise you will be charged with a Refusal to Submit which carries stiff penalties similar to a DWI.
There are many factors that can contribute to an officer’s suspicion, including but not limited to:
- The physical appearance of the driver (e.g. bloodshot eyes)
- Slurred speech
- 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 pen or finger vertically about one foot from the driver’s face slightly above eye level. The driver is instructed to keep his or her head completely still and to follow the finger with their eyes only. The police officer will then slowly move their finger from left to right and vice versa looking for lack of smooth pursuit of your pupils. At max deviation (when your pupils are in the corner of your eye looking off to the side) the police look for nystagmusm, which is an involuntary jerking or “bouncing” of your pupil off the corner of your eye. This jerking is only caused by alcohol consumption because it 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 test requires that the suspected DWI driver stand straight with one leg raised approximately 6 inches off the ground, with hands at their sides, and counting out loud for approximately 30 seconds. The driver fails the standardized test if they exhibit two or more clues which includes swaying while balancing, raising arms to balance, hops, or rests foot on ground.
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 then it is in your best interest to hire a capable DUI Lawyer. Will Proetta, our firm’s founding attorney, is recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor. Experience and qualifications like these allow our lawyers to scrutinize law enforcement’s actions for the slightest mistake or technicality. For free initial consultation contact Proetta & Oliver at (908) 838-0150 or stop by our offices conveniently located in Cranford and Edison office.