DWI Law Update: Field Sobriety Testing Procedures for New Jersey Motorists Suspected of Driving while Intoxicated

Understanding what can occur during a routine traffic stop can be very useful for drivers who may have had some amount of beer, wine or hard liquor prior to getting behind the wheel of their car or truck. By learning the procedures used by police officers when facing a possible DWI suspect a motorist may be better prepared for the subsequent steps of a drunken driving arrest and possible conviction.

As a New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, I can say that nobody looks forward to a drunk driving conviction on their record. Yet, this is certainly a risk when any driver, regardless of past history, attempts to operate a motor vehicle after having consumed even a small amount of alcohol. And don’t forget that prescription medication has been known to cause impaired judgment as well, which explains why drug DUI arrests continue to make the headlines across the country.

As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power,” especially where the law is concerned. An arrest for DWI, drug DUI or even marijuana possession in a motor vehicle can be just the beginning of a long and costly process for many drivers. Regardless of the reasons — be it excessive alcohol consumption, a bad reaction to prescription meds, or the so-called cocaine hangover — being pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper or local police officer can be the beginning of the end to a previously clean driving record.

Before being charged with DWI or drug DUI, a motorist may not even be suspected of driving under the influence by the officer in charge. Still, policemen are trained to detect the telltale signs of drunken driving behavior, so the suspicion may already exist. However, for a DWI stop to be legal the officer must stop the motorist an actual traffic infraction, such as failure to signal a lane change or having a broken taillight. This kind of offense is usually the initial cause of traffic stop that could end up in an actual DWI arrest.

The well-known field sobriety test is an important tool employed by police officers all around the country to determine if a driver is possibly impaired due to alcohol or drug use. Failing to pass one or more of a variety of tests can become one of several pieces of evidence that a municipal prosecutor can present to the court as proof that a driver was impaired at the time of the initial traffic stop.

Several standard tests are used by police to confirm their suspicion that a driver is intoxicated. These tests can be carried out on the roadside or in a location where drivers are being observed for possible drunkenness, such as at a sobriety checkpoint or DWI roadblock. These tests 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.