New Jersey Drunk Driving Update: Reasons and Procedures for DWI-related Field Sobriety Testing

Knowing what to expect following a drunken driving traffic stop may help some individuals prepare themselves for the next steps in the DWI arrest and conviction process. Of course, nobody wants to have a drunk driving conviction on their record, but this is always a risk when a motorist who may have had too much to drink is stopped for erratic driving or some other seemingly minor traffic offense.

As a New Jersey DWI defense attorney, I feel that knowledge is power especially when the law is concerned. A drunk driving arrest or summons is just the beginning. Whether the reason is excessive alcohol consumption, a reaction to prescription drug use, or illicit drug or marijuana use, being stopped by a law enforcement officer can spell the end of a clean driving record. And, being taken into custody for driving under the influence can signal the beginning of a lengthy and potentially costly episode in a person’s life.

Prior to being charged with drunk driving, a motorist may not even be suspected of it at first. However, in many cases, a patrolman who is trained to detect drunken behavior may already suspect that a driver is operating his or her vehicle while impaired. Stopping the motorist for a simple yet justifiable traffic infraction is the opening move toward a full-blown DWI or drug DUI arrest.

Field sobriety tests are a key tool that law enforcement professionals use to determine possible inebriation. Failure to pass one or more of these tests can become one of numerous pieces of evidence that the state can present as proof that a driver was, in fact, impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the arrest.

These can be administered on the roadside following a traffic stop or in a location where drivers are being checked for drunkenness, such as a sobriety checkpoint or roadblock. They include:

A) Horizontal gaze nystagmus B) Walk-and-turning test C) One-leg standing test
In addition to these common sobriety tests, an officer will observe and note nearly everything the driver says or does during the stop. It is important to remember that all of this may be used in court as evidence against the motorist to win a conviction for DWI or drug DUI. Even the manner that a driver exits his or her vehicle, not to mention the individual’s behavior, can or may be used by the prosecutor during the trial.

Finally, a driver may be asked to submit to a breath or blood test to measure the amount of alcohol in the person’s blood stream. Here in New Jersey, motorists do not have the right to refuse a breath test or other kind of chemical blood-alcohol content (BAC) test that police may use to measure the degree of inebriation.

New Jersey’s implied consent law means that every driver issued a license has given his or her future approval, or consent, to take breathalyzer or chemical test following a DWI arrest. It is critical to remember that the police cannot randomly request a driver to take a breathalyzer without first having probable cause that the motorist is intoxicated.

We have been asked more than once if a motorist has the right to have legal counsel with them at the time of a breathalyzer or other chemical test. The answer to this is no. To make things worse, officers are in no way obliged to wait for your lawyer to arrive at the police station or hospital before administering any of these BAC tests.