The Role of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in a DWI Arrest
Under New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), a DWI is a traffic offense. That being said, an arrest is still a very serious matter. It can carry significant penalties, potentially including jail time and the suspension of your driver’s license. If you are stopped on suspicion of intoxicated driving in our state, you may be asked to submit to a field sobriety test. It is crucial that you understand your rights, responsibilities, and how the results of the test could affect your case. Here, our New Jersey DWI defense attorney Matthew Portella, highlights the role of field sobriety tests in a DWI arrest.
What is a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST)?
The repercussions of a DWI conviction are severe and extend beyond legal penalties, significantly impacting your employment prospects. Many employers mandate a clean driving record, and a DWI blemish often leads to immediate disqualification. Moreover, some employers interpret a DWI arrest as an indication of potential unreliability and poor decision-making.
The Ways a DWI Charge Can Undermine Your Employment Prospects
Broadly defined, a standardized field sobriety test is physical/cognitive evaluation of a person that is most often administered by law enforcement officers on the roadside to determine if a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. There are three basic types of SFSTs in New Jersey:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: This evaluation measures the supposed subconscious (not controllable) movement of a person’s eyes when they look from side to side.
- The Walk-and-Turn Test: For this sobriety test, a motorist is told to take steps and to remain in a straight line while doing so. Then, they are asked to turn around on one foot and return back to the starting position.
- The One Leg Stand Test: The individual is asked to stand on one foot and then hold their other foot approximately half-a-foot above the ground. Most often, they will be asked to count while performing this test.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are Not Mandatory in New Jersey
How accurate are standard field sobriety tests? They are not nearly as reliable as many people believe. Indeed, there are serious flaws with these tests and the error rate is significant. False positives are far from rare. Unlike chemical tests in New Jersey, where implied consent laws mean drivers have essentially agreed to be tested if there’s suspicion of DWI, there’s no similar obligation for SFSTs. Drivers can refuse to take an SFST without incurring automatic penalties. However, failure to perform the SFSTs can cause a judge to infer that the person didn’t do them because they were intoxicated.
You Can Be Arrested for DWI Due to a Poor Performance on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
While SFSTs are not infallible and many factors can affect a person’s performance, a poor performance can provide the officer with probable cause to make an arrest for DWI. To be clear, a person could still be arrested and charged with DWI even if they declined to take a field sobriety test. That being said, the fact that you declined to take the test is not proof of your guilt.
An Attorney Can Help Navigate a DWI Charge in Light of Your Standardized Field Sobriety Test Results
If you are arrested due to poor performance on the standardized field sobriety tests, consulting with a New Jersey DWI attorney is crucial. Your lawyer can evaluate the manner in which the test was administered, challenge its validity, or argue for its exclusion from the evidence. Given that SFSTs are subjective and can be influenced by various conditions— medical issues, road conditions, footwear, time of day, etc.—an experienced attorney can play a pivotal role in your defense.
Contact Our New Jersey DWI Defense Lawyer Today
At the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, our New Jersey DWI defense lawyer provides straightforward, effective legal counsel. If you have any questions about the role of field sobriety tests, we are here to help. Contact us today for your confidential case evaluation. With our office in Haddonfield, we handle DUI cases throughout New Jersey.