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Field Sobriety Tests

What Are The Field Sobriety Tests Administered during a DWI Stop?

In order for a police officer to charge and arrest a driver for DWI, a field sobriety test is usually requested by a police officer. A field sobriety test is the best way for a police officer to judge whether reasonable cause exists as to whether the driver is, or is not, intoxicated. If reasonable cause does exist, the driver would be required by law to submit to a breathalyzer test. Field sobriety tests are also the best way for an officer to ascertain whether the requisite probable cause exists which ultimately allows the driver to be charged with DWI. A police officer will demonstrate and explain each test before observing and administering the test.The origins of the standardizing of the Field Sobriety Test came from research done by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administrations back in the 1970s. This scientific study determine that three test were best at determining a persons level of impairment. It was determined that the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the One Leg Stand and the Walk And Turn test most accurate at helping the police determine whether or not a person was impaired. Each of these test could easily be administered by a police officer while parked on a road side.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of a driver's eyeballs. When an individual has been drinking or using drugs, this eye motion becomes more apparent. The test is performed when a police officer ask the driver to follow a stylus from left to right (which could be a pen or his finger) with their eyes while keeping their head completely still. The officer is observing whether or not the eye moves in a smooth fashion, that the driver is able to follow the police officer direction and if the eye makes any jerking motions.

One-leg Stand

In this test a driver is instructed by the police officer to stand in one place with their arms at their side and their feet together. They are then instructed to lift one foot approximately 6-8 inches off the ground while pointing their toe out. Next they will be ask to count by a thousand; for example 1001, 1002, 1003 and so on. The officer is observing the drivers ability to remain still while standing in one place without the aid of their arms for balance. If the driver sways, puts their foot down in order to rebalance themselves or is incapable of counting by a thousand could all be signs of intoxication.


For this test, a police officer will see if a driver is able to walk a straight line. The officer will demonstrate the task before asking the driver to repeat the task. The driver will be asked to walk 9 heel to toe steps with their arms out to their sides, while counting off each step. When the driver gets to the ninth step the driver is to turn around and repeat the action. In this test the officer is observing the drivers ability to remain balance, able to follow instructions and whether they are able to take the full 9 steps back and forth.

You Are Not Required To Performed a Field Sobriety Test

In New Jersey, a driver is not required to perform field sobriety tests. Therefore, a driver may refuse an officer's request to perform a field sobriety test and the officer may not issue the driver a ticket for their refusal. However, the police officer can still arrest the driver for DWI based on his own personal observations. The observation evidence can include the driver's demeanor, the smell of alcohol, whether the driver was cooperative, the driver's posture, manner of speech, nervousness, etc.

What are Possible Defenses to Failing a Field Sobriety Test?

There are several legitimate defenses to a DWI charge, especially failing a field sobriety test, including:

  • Lack of Reliability: Field Sobriety tests are unreliable because they are not tested to determine reliability. Since no procedure exists to administer these tests, there is no way to determine if tests are given the same way each time.
  • Health Condition: If a driver is asked to perform a task and the driver has a panic disorder, ADD, etc. it is possible that the results will not have been accurate. There can be physical conditions with the driver or with the environment. The officer must ask if the driver has any injuries or medical issues. Medical problems can often have an impact on one's ability to perform the tests. Obese people can have problems with the balancing tests because of their weight.
  • Poor Conditions: Surfacing conditions can impact the test negatively if the ground isn't level or if it is slippery.

If you feel you were wrongly arrested for Drunk Driving because of a faulty Field Sobriety Test, then you need to speak with the DWI defense attorneys of  Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Call 732-820-1256 today for a FREE consultation.

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If you are facing charges in Ocean County or Monmouth County, you should be aware that a conviction can have serious consequences which will impact your life. The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca are experienced in helping people that are facing criminal charges determine the best possible outcome for their case and work toward an effective resolution. Carmine Villani and the lawyers at Villani & DeLuca will be with you every step of the way.

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