Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, commonly called “SFST’s” is a technique used by law enforcement across the country to detect drunk drivers. Each state in the country uses the same set of tests which have established a national standard. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “NHTSA” recognizes three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests – which include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the One Leg Stand the Walk and Turn test. On a routine DWI stop, the police officer will first make contact with the driver. If the officer suspects that the driver has been drinking and appears intoxicated based on the odor of alcohol, slurred speech or bloodshot droopy eyes they may then have the driver step out of the car to perform the SFST’s. The field tests, particularly the One Leg Stand & Walk and Turn, are designed to test the individual’s multi-tasking ability and physical dexterity, which can be affect after alcohol consumption and impairment. During each test the officer will carefully document any “clues” that the suspect exhibits. Two or more clues on each test will normally result in an arrest for DWI. However, 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. This is distinctly different from the Alcotest (breathalyzer) – which carries a separate charge of Refusal if you fail to give breath samples.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN) is a Field Sobriety Test that is typically conducted by law enforcement when investigating a DWI offense. The police are looking for the onset of nystagmus which is the involuntary jerking of a suspect’s pupil that manifests from alcohol intoxication. To perform this test, the police officer will commonly hold an object such as a pen or their 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 to look for the first clue which is “lack of smooth pursuit”. This basically means that your pupils will skip across your eye from side to side instead of following the pen back and forth in one smooth motion. The next test the officer will perform is to hold to object at max deviation (when your pupils are in the corner of your eye looking off to the side) and look for nystagmus which will exhibited by your pupil bouncing off the corner of your eye. Next the police officer will look for nystagmus while holding the stimulus (pen) at a 45 degree angle your face. This jerking is only caused by alcohol’s tendency to affect brains’ ability to control our eyes and eye muscles. Although the HGN is considered the most reliable test by NHTSA if it is done correctly, the test is hotly debated in New Jersey and widely considered to not be scientifically reliable and admissible at trial.
The Walk and Turn Test
Another common field sobriety test is the Walk and Turn or “Heel-to-Toe” test. During this test the police officer will normally have a suspect walk in a straight line 9 steps forward, then turn, and then walk 9 steps back. However, it is not as easy as it sounds by any means. This is because the suspect will normally have to stand on a line with the feet in a heel to toe position, left foot in front of the right with their hands at their sides while they listen to the instructions. If you start before being told to then that is a clue. Moreover, on each step you must touch your toes to the heel of the font in front of you and count each step out loud. In my opinion the Walk and Turn is the most complicated of the SFST’s and therefore the hardest. 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
The One Leg Stand may seem simple but don’t be fooled this test can be very hard to successfully complete. The 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. This field sobriety test only has four clues which are swaying back and forth, raising your arms over 6 inches for balance, lower your foot to the ground and hopping.
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. SFSTs are commonly used to establish probable cause for a DWI arrest but can also be used for the state to prove the DUI against you beyond a reasonable doubt in cases where there is no per se violation or breath reading. By successfully challenging their validity or administration your chances of beating a DWI are significantly greater. Will Proetta has been certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a 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. If you are interested in learning more about how we may be able to help you, contact our office today at (201) 793-8018.
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