As a defense attorney, I’m often asked whether or not field sobriety tests are legitimate evidence that can prove you are guilty of DUI/WI. They’re not, which is why they are not used in court to determine if someone was driving under the influence. For that, either breathalyzer evidence or blood tests are used to prove the suspect was, in fact, driving while intoxicated.
However, there is one important detail that must be present in order for the police to initiate a blood or breath test. Probable cause. How do police go about getting probable cause? You guessed it, a field sobriety test.
Field Sobriety Tests: Designed for Failure
Spurgeon Cole and Ronald H. Nowaczyk from Clemson University asked a number of officers to determine from a videotape of 21 subjects which ones were drunk and which ones were not. The officers, based on the tests that they saw, all agreed that at least five of the subjects had too much to drink and were too impaired to drive based on field sobriety tests performed in the video. Meanwhile, in reality, not one of the individuals in the video turned out to be drunk. In fact, they had nothing to drink at all. Their blood alcohol level would have been revealed by any legitimate test to be 0.00.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) authorizes the use of three field sobriety tests. These are the same tests that New Jersey officers use when they’ve pulled over a driver that they believe is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These are:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus,
- Walk and turn,
- And the one-legged stand.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
This test is considered to be the “most accurate” by the NHTSA. There are strict rules on how it should be administered. An officer uses either a pen or their finger and instructs you to follow it with your eyes without moving your head. The idea is that an inebriated individual’s eyes cannot follow the pen in a smooth motion.
If you can’t, then you’re obviously drunk, right? Except — that conclusion is not supported by medical science. There are a number of reasons why nystagmus may be present, only one of which is inebriation.
In addition, there could be a number of reasons why the test itself could deliver a false positive. This includes how far away the pen was held, how quickly it was moved, and other factors. The test is simply not accurate.
Walk and Turn
The officer will instruct an individual to walk in a perfectly straight line and then turn around and do it again. Is this an accurate gauge for whether or not someone is drunk or sober? Of course, it’s not. Many of us would find it difficult completely sober. Moreover, there are a number of other factors that could produce false positives.
The One-Legged Stand
This is the worst of the bunch and the test that the majority of people are most likely to fail. The individual has to stand on one leg with their toes pointed straight in the air 6 inches off the ground while counting out loud. But what about people who have bad knees? Are overweight? Have restless leg syndrome? Or just lack coordination? These poor folks will end up at the police station regardless of how sober they are.
We Can Help You Challenge Field Sobriety Tests
If you’ve been charged with DWI in New Jersey, chances are you were given a field sobriety test. If the officer later determined that you were in fact under the influence, your attorney may be able to argue that there was no probable cause for detaining you. In addition, if there is no supporting evidence from breathalyzer or blood tests, then the chance of that charge sticking is very low. This is especially true if you have an experienced attorney defending you.
Contact a New Jersey DWI Attorney
New Jersey takes DWI very seriously and the penalties for driving under the influence can include jail time. If you are facing DWI charges, you need an attorney with experience who understands how these tests can impact the case against a driver. Give Samuel Louis Sachs, Esq LLC a call or contact us online and we can sit down and discuss your options today.