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What Are the Requirements for the Field Sobriety Tests in New Jersey?

January 17, 2024 | Posted In Drunk Driving

Police and prosecutors in New Jersey use field sobriety tests (FSTs) to make arrests and secure convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI). While drivers are not required to take the field sobriety tests in New Jersey, many residents and visitors are not aware of this fact, and as a result, they “consent” to taking the tests unnecessarily. If you are facing a drunk driving charge after “failing” the field sobriety tests, you will need to challenge your test results, and this starts with hiring an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer to represent you.

Understanding New Jersey’s Field Sobriety Test (FST) Requirements

There are several ways to challenge your field sobriety test results during a DWI case in New Jersey. One way is by showing that the police officer who arrested you did not follow the requirements for properly administering the FSTs. If your arresting officer did not administer the FSTs properly, this may render your test results unreliable—and, as a result, your test results may be inadmissible in court.

So, how can you show that your arresting officer improperly administered the FSTs?

Police officers in New Jersey must follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Procedures. If your arresting officer did not strictly follow these procedures for any one (or more) of the FSTs, your New Jersey DWI lawyer may be able to use this in your defense.

Under the NHTSA’s Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Procedures, the requirements for properly administering the field sobriety tests are as follows:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is designed to detect involuntary eye movement, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) indicative of alcohol intoxication. Under the NHTSA’s standardized procedures, when administering the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, police officers must provide the following instructions:

  • Put your feet together with your hands at your side
  • Remove your glasses (if worn)
  • While keeping your head still, look at and follow this stimulus with your eyes only
  • Keep looking at the stimulus until you are told that the test is over

The officer must also ask if you understood the instructions before administering the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The “stimulus” mentioned in the instructions refers to a pen or other object that the police officer will hold and move from side to side in front of your face.

Walk-and-Turn Test

The walk-and-turn test is designed to test your coordination and balance. Similar to horizontal gaze nystagmus, while lack of coordination or balance can potentially be indicative of alcohol intoxication, there are also several other factors that can make it difficult to successfully walk heel-to-toe in a perfectly straight line on the side of the road. When administering the walk-and-turn test, police officers must provide the following instructions:

  • Put your left foot on the line, then put your right foot on the line
  • Do not start walking until instructed
  • When instructed, take nine heel-to-toe steps on the line, turn around, then take nine more heel-to-toe steps back in the opposite direction
  • When you turn, keep your front foot on the line and turn taking several small steps with the other foot
  • Look at your feet, keep your arms at your side and count each step out loud

Here, too, the officer must confirm that you understood the instructions, and he or she must repeat any instructions that you didn’t understand. The officer is also required to demonstrate both the proper walking and proper turning procedures.

One-Leg-Stand Test

The one-leg-stand test is another tool the police use to test suspects’ balance during DWI stops. Just like the other field sobriety tests, it is not conclusive due to the various factors besides alcohol intoxication that can come into play. Even so, prosecutors will argue that your “failure” of the one-leg-stand test is evidence of intoxication, and you will need to be able to rely on your New Jersey DWI lawyer to counter this argument effectively.

Similar to the other FSTs, your lawyer may also be able to challenge your “failure” of the one-leg-stand test by showing that your arresting officer failed to provide any of the following instructions:

  • Stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides
  • Stay still until instructed otherwise
  • When instructed, raise one leg approximately six inches off of the ground with your foot pointed out and both legs straight
  • Look at your raised foot and count seconds until instructed to stop

Before initiating the one-leg-stand test, police officers must also confirm that DWI suspects understood the instructions and provide a demonstration. If you didn’t understand what you were supposed to do, or if it is possible that you were unable to keep your balance for any reason other than the consumption of alcohol, your “failure” shouldn’t be used against you in court.

Understanding What it Means if Your FST Results Are Unreliable Due to Improper Administration

While it may be possible to challenge your field sobriety test results due to improper test administration or on other grounds, it is important to understand what successfully challenging these results means (and doesn’t mean) for your drunk driving case. If you are facing a DWI charge in New Jersey, it is highly unlikely that your FST results are the only evidence that prosecutors have against you. As a result, even if your FST results are inadmissible, prosecutors may still be able to secure a conviction.

With this in mind, regardless of the circumstances surrounding your “failure” of the field sobriety tests, you should not assume that challenging your FST results will be enough on its own—because it probably won’t. Instead, you should consult with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer to find out what else you need to do in order to protect yourself to the fullest extent possible.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation with a New Jersey DWI Lawyer 

If you need to know more about fighting a drunk driving charge in New Jersey, we encourage you to contact us promptly. Please call 877-435-6371 or send us a message online to arrange a confidential consultation.


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