Proving Under The Influence
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
The State shoulders the burden of proving a substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical capabilities of the defendant. Accordingly, the police administer a battery of psychological and physical tests during a motor vehicle stop of a suspected intoxicated driver. In addition to providing probable cause for an arrest as required by the Constitution and proof beyond a reasonable doubt for trial, a defendant’s refusal to perform the tests creates an inference of guilt.2
Promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and the One-Leg Stand. The HGN examines the involuntary jerking motion of the eyes exhibited by a person under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, the Walk and Turn and One-Leg Stand are divided attention tasks that require a subject to listen to and follow instructions related to simple physical movement.
These tests assess the subject’s mental faculties. They involve tasks a sober person ordinarily could perform without trouble. For example, a sober person would feel embarrassed about stumbling through the alphabet or counting numbers. Skills probably learned in kindergarten, an intoxicated person will fail at these tasks. Instead of speaking each letter, the intoxicated person might sing them. Additionally, the subject might confuse the sequence of letters or numbers. Furthermore, reciting beyond a specific range of letters of numbers will reveal a subject’s diminished short term memory associated with intoxication.
The officer might ask the subject the time without looking at a timepiece. Although various circumstances unrelated to intoxication can cause confusion about this, the police might ask. Another test for confusion involves asking the subject where he is heading. And with respect to all these tests, slurred speech by a subject allows for an inference of intoxication.
These tests assess the subject’s physical coordination, like the finger-to-nose test. The officer might instruct the subject to perform the test with his eyes closed. Additionally, the officer might instruct the subject to count, talk, or follow some other complex instruction while performing a physical task. Like the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, these are also divided attention tasks.
Defending a person charged under the DUI statute requires the ability to analyze the officer’s administration of the tests. Of course, that requires a more thorough knowledge of these tests. And while I hope everyone passes these tests with flying colors, if the officer decides you failed, NJ Drunk Driving Lawyer Michael A. Smolensky, Esquire, knows how to protect his clients. Mr. Smolensky can provide consultations on all cases involving DWI. Call Now—(856) 812-0321.
1 N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 (emphasis added).
2 State v. Bryant, 328 N.J. Super. 379 (App. Div. 2000).