Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in NJ
Summary: Despite the unreliability of non-standardized field sobriety tests, police in New Jersey frequently justify DWI arrests on the basis of these tests. You can challenge the results of these tests in court.
When drivers are pulled over by police in New Jersey and suspected of DWI/DUI, they are often told to take some kind of field sobriety test. While these tests are optional, police often fail to disclose this information to the driver. Many people may go ahead with the tests, believing that they can pass successfully and avoid being arrested and charged.
However, few people are successful as the reason the police request the test is to show probable cause for making a DWI arrest and to collect evidence to back up the charges for the prosecution. There are two types of field sobriety tests: standardized and non-standardized.
Standardized and Non-Standardized Tests
There are three standardized tests recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
The NHTSA has declined to certify other types of field sobriety tests as they are known to be unreliable. However, police in New Jersey are still allowed to use these non-standardized tests despite their lack of reliability.
These tests can carry less weight as evidence in court because there is no objective scoring system or measurement used to assess a person’s performance on the tests. In addition, physical illness or disability can create the same “failure” as intoxication.
Some of the non-standardized field sobriety tests frequently used by police are:
In this non-standard field sobriety test, police ask the driver to extend one arm forward, palm up. They then ask the driver to lay the other arm above it with the palm down and then pat the two palms together, counting the pat. Next, the driver is asked to rotate their hands and repeat the pat, counting again. The test can easily be confusing, and drivers may “fail” the test due to simple nervousness, cognitive issues or a lack of understanding.
While this test can be a standard part of neurological tests, it can be a questionable test of a driver’s level of intoxication. In this test, the driver stands fully upright with both feet together and is told to tip his or her head backward for 30 seconds. After the driver estimates a 30-second period, he or she is to move the head forward, open his or her eyes and say “stop.” It can be far too easy for drivers to fail this test on the side of the road, especially when they mistakenly overestimate or underestimate what 30 seconds feels like. In addition, police watch drivers for swaying, muscle tightening and other balance issues; all of these can frequently reflect physical problems rather than intoxication.
In this test, police tell a driver to tilt his or her head backward, keeping eyes closed. The driver will then be directed to touch his or her left and right index fingers to the nose randomly. Police then watch for swaying, difficulty touching the nose, inaccurate depth perception, tremors or other issues. As the test is often administered by a busy roadside in a stressful situation, drivers may be even more likely to have problems than usual, especially if they have underlying physical conditions.
Alphabet and Numbers Tests
These tests often involve reciting the alphabet forward and backward. Due to nervousness, many non-impaired drivers may stumble or face difficulty with the backward recitation of either letters or numbers.
Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Are Biased
Non-standardized field sobriety tests are often inherently biased. While they often test for physical acuity, alcohol affects people mentally before it does physically. Physical impairment can be displayed without accompanying mental impairment due to a wide range of conditions that have nothing to do with a person’s fitness to drive. In order to win a DWI conviction, the prosecution must prove that the driver is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of driving while intoxicated. In many cases, reliance on non-standardized field sobriety tests may introduce this type of serious doubt into the equation.
If you are facing DWI charges at least partially on the basis of non-standardized field sobriety tests, a New Jersey DUI lawyer can help you put forward a strong defense and strive to avoid a conviction. Contact experienced DWI defense lawyer Denis F. Driscoll today to schedule your consultation.