Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Drivers suspected of New Jersey DWI / DUI are typically told to take a field sobriety test before being arrested. Field sobriety tests are optional, but police don’t usually give that information to the driver.

Many drivers assume that they can “pass” the test and avoid an arrest, but that’s rarely the case. The real purpose of field sobriety tests is to create probable cause for an arrest and collect evidence for a drunk driving court case. Any motorist who took a field sobriety test before being arrested for drunk driving should contact the New Jersey DWI attorneys at Levow DWI Law who focus on successfully defending driving under the influence cases.

There are two types of field sobriety tests – standardized and non-standardized. Three standardized tests are recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – horizontalgaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one-leg stand test.

Police officers in New Jersey are not required to use only standardized field tests.

Non-standardized field sobriety tests are so unreliable that they aren’t even recognized by the NHTSA. However, many police officers use these tests even though they aren’t considered reliable indicators of alcohol intoxication. Non-standardized field sobriety tests can include the finger count test, the hand pat test, the Rhomberg balance test, the finger-to-nose test, the ABCs, and the numbers backward test.

Non-standardized field sobriety tests should carry less evidentiary weight than standardized tests, because they don’t have objective instructions or scoring systems. In addition, many of the ‘signs’ of intoxication that police watch for can be traced to physical problems rather than alcohol.

To see how this can be used as an effective defense strategy, it’s useful to understand how alcohol consumption impacts the human body. Alcohol always causes mental impairment before physical impairment. Individuals with a high alcohol tolerance can often mask physical impairment, but mental impairment cannot be disguised. Therefore, if the driver displayed physical impairment but no mental impairment, the physical difficulties must have stemmed from something other than alcohol intoxication.

Remember, the prosecution must prove the driver’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a NJ DWI / DUI conviction . Non-standardized field sobriety tests are inherently biased, and their reliance on physical agility presents problems for prosecutors.

Many accused drunk drivers worry that their performance on field sobriety tests means an automatic conviction, but that’s simply not the case. Field sobriety test results can be effectively challenged. A skilled New Jersey DWI attorney who focuses on drunk driving defense will establish whether factors unrelated to alcohol intoxication prevented the accused driver from “passing” a field sobriety test, and use that information as part of a comprehensive defense strategy.

Because Evan Levow is an Instructor in the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, qualified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and all of the NJ DWI lawyers at Levow DWI Law have been qualified by NHTSA in the SFSTs, we know how to analyze these tests and demonstrate to the prosecutor and the court why the non-standardized exercises should carry less weight than even the limited standardized tests.

Please call us to discuss field sobriety testing and any other NJ DWI / DUI concerns at 877-593-1717.