New Jersey Court Clarifies Reliability of Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test in DWI Cases

There are numerous factors a judge or jury can consider in determining whether a person is guilty of DWI, and in many cases, the court will rely on cumulative evidence in determining a person’s guilt. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove a defendant was driving while under the influence, the defendant should not be convicted. Recently, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New Jersey clarified that the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, standing alone, are not sufficient to prove guilt in a DWI case. If you are faced with DWI charges it is prudent to consult a skilled New Jersey DUI defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of DWI. He appealed, arguing in part that the court erred in considering the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus test as proof of the defendant’s intoxication. On appeal, the court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Sufficiency of HGN Test as Evidence of DWI

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test involves the police holding a pen to either side of a defendant’s face and asking the defendant to gaze toward the pen while keeping his or her head still. A person’s eye will involuntarily jerk when looking to the side, but in instances in which a suspect is intoxicated the jerking will become exaggerated.

Under New Jersey law, a police officer’s subjective observation of a defendant is adequate evidence of intoxication to sustain a DWI conviction. The appellate court noted, that the trial court correctly held that the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, in and of itself, is not a reliable basis to convict a defendant of DWI. The trial court went on to say, however, that it relied upon other factors in determining the defendant was guilty of DWI, including the defendant’s driving and his failure of the field sobriety test, and the smell of alcohol in the defendant’s vehicle.

The appellate court held that the trial court erred in admitting the results of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test as evidence that the defendant was driving while under the influence. Specifically, the court held that while the results of the test could be used to establish probable cause to arrest a person on suspicion of DWI, it was not scientifically reliable as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. The appellate court stated that it was clear that the trial court relied upon the results of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test in determining that the defendant was guilty of DWI and that the error in doing so was not harmless. Thus, the court reversed the trial court verdict and remanded the case for a new trial without evidence of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

Meet with a Trusted New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you reside in New Jersey and are charged with a DWI offense it is in your best interest to meet with a New Jersey DWI attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest.  The knowledgeable attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall will diligently pursue the most favorable legal result possible under the facts of your case. We can be contacted through our online form or at (732) 450-8300 to set up a confidential and complimentary meeting to discuss your case.

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