Written by attorney Elliot S Stomel


In New Jersey, police are generally required to conduct Field Sobriety Tests before issuing a summons for driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence. These physical and psychological tests are intended to provide the police with information necessary to determine whether an individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The tests are also necessary because a police officer must possess probable cause to make an arrest and unless he has portable breath test equipment in his vehicle, field sobriety tests (also referred to as psycho-physical testing) are ordinarily the only basis for establishing probable cause for an arrest. Additionally, the tests provide evidence which the police can rely upon in attempting to prove a New Jersey DWI, DUI or Refusal case where blood alcohol concentration cannot be established thro ugh blood or breath tests.

There are many issues which may be raised with respect to the administration and interpretation of field sobriety tests. Many times police officers fail to administer the tests properly thereby destroying the value of the tests. In other instances, the test results are misinterpreted or exaggerated, and this can also be brought out during the course of a case. If the weight of the field sobriety tests can be eliminated or significantly reduced, then the prosecutor may be unable to satisfy his burden of establishing probable cause for the drunk driving arrest and any DWI, DUI or Refusal charge issued.

The types of field sobriety tests administered in a given case vary, but the pool of tests utilized by police officers typically involves the following:

  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: this is a test wherein police attempt to determine whether probable cause exists to make an arrest based on how smoothly an individual's eyes are tracking. For a more detailed discussion concerning the limited use of this test, readers are referred to New Jersey's Appellate Division decision in State v. Doriguzzi, 334 N.J.Super. 530 (App.Div.2000).

  2. Head Tilt Test

  3. Finger to Nose Test

  4. One Leg Balance Test

  5. Walking Heal-to-Toe Test

  6. Reciting the ABC's

  7. Counting

The results of the field sobriety tests, as well as other circumstantial evidence, are recorded in the Police Report and Drinking and Driving Report contained in the arrest records (i.e. the discovery). A thorough analysis by a knowledgeable attorney is imperative for a determination to be made as to whether or not Field Sobriety Tests were administered properly and the results properly interpreted.

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