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Can I Be Convicted of DUI for Failing a Field Sobriety Test?

April 30, 2018 | Posted In Drunk Driving |

When you get pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) in New Jersey, you may be asked to submit to two types of tests: (i) a chemical test (typically a breath test), and (ii) a series of field sobriety tests (FSTs). While submitting to the breath test is mandatory under New Jersey’s implied consent law, you do not have to consent to the FSTs. But, let’s say you didn’t know your rights, you felt confident in your ability to pass, or you felt pressured into taking the FSTs. If you “failed” a field sobriety test, how will your test results impact your DUI trial?

Understanding the Field Sobriety Tests Used in New Jersey

In New Jersey, the police use the three standardized field sobriety tests that have been validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): (i) the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, (ii) the walk-and-turn test and (iii) the one-leg stand test. When administering each of these FSTs, the arresting officer must follow the instructions provided by the NHTSA, and must assess the DUI suspect’s performance in light of specific enumerated factors. These factors include:

1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

  • Lack of smooth tracking in either the left or right eye
  • Onset of nystagmus in either eye prior to 45 degrees of movement
  • Sustained nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) in either eye at full deviation
  • Nystagmus in either eye when looking upward (vertical gaze nystagmus)

2. Walk-and-Turn Test

  • Failure to maintain balance during the test instructions
  • Starting too soon
  • Stopping before completion
  • Failing to maintain heel-to-toe contact
  • Stepping off of the line
  • Using the arms for balance
  • Making an improper turn or taking an incorrect number of steps

3. One-Leg Stand Test

  • Swaying while balancing
  • Using the arms for balance
  • Hopping
  • Putting down the raised foot

A New Jersey DUI Lawyer Can Help You Defend Against an FST Failure

If you were arrested after consenting to the field sobriety tests, the prosecutor’s office will probably try to use your performance on the FSTs as evidence at trial. But, while “failing” a field sobriety test can be evidence of alcohol intoxication, it can also be representative of various other facts and circumstances. For example, DUI defendants in New Jersey will often be able to challenge the use of their FST results at trial by asserting defenses such as:

  • Having acquired nystagmus
  • Having another medical condition that makes it difficult for you to track movement with your eyes or maintain your balance
  • Inadequate communication of the test instructions
  • Improper FST administration
  • Improper interpretation of test performance
  • Use of non-standardized tests or procedures
  • Being asked to perform the FSTs on sloped or uneven terrain
  • Poor lighting or weather conditions
  • Wearing boots or shoes that make it difficult to balance on one foot or walk heel-to-toe

Can you successfully challenge the prosecution’s evidence against you? Given the severe consequences of a DUI conviction in New Jersey, you need to find out. To discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey DUI lawyer in confidence, schedule a confidential initial consultation today.

Schedule a Confidential Initial Consultation at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

If you have been arrested for DUI, our New Jersey DUI lawyer can fight to prevent your field sobriety test results from being used against you. To request an appointment at one of our 14 convenient office locations, please call 1-877-435-6371 or get in touch online today.

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