DWI Field Sobriety Test Administration and Police Error

I had the good fortune of participating in a multi-day Standardized Field Sobriety Tests training session several years back. This was an intense training seminar attended by a few lawyers from around the country and law enforcement from a few NJ municipalities. This training taught the technique and science behind the field sobriety test and really drilled home the importance of administering the tests correctly to effectuate correct decisions for law enforcement making DWI arrest.

Surprisingly, the seminar attendance was only around 20 people. But what was absolutely clear from those in attendance, is that very few law enforcement officers are properly trained in the Standardized Filed Sobriety Test. The main tests are the HGN or horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one leg stand, and the walk and turn. These test are the only scientifically validated tests. As such, the results can only be validated if administered and scored in the proscribed standardized manner.

After receiving the training, a few things became very apparent. One… very, very, very, few attorneys and law enforcement officers know what proper administration of the SFST means. Second…in almost every DWI case I have handled, the officer administering the test did so incorrectly.

In most circumstances, police officers receive little if no training at the police academy. Some receive on the job training, but very few are certified and have taken the necessary course to truly understand how to administer the test. In many instances, the officer does not provide proper directions, does not score the test properly, and does not even establish that the medical prerequisites exist for the administration of the test.

One must remember that these tests are the main tool for law enforcement in a New Jersey DWI investigation. Mistakes can lead to bad arrest, and unjust prosecutions. This is especially the case in borderline cases, for example, when a individual’s Alcotest result has been suppressed and the state must rely on the Field Sobriety Tests to convict a defendant charged with DWI.

Unfortunately, many judges do not have a thorough understanding of the tests either. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to have an expert testify after the arresting officer has been cross-examined to essentially educate the court on all the mistakes that were made, and why those mistakes are important.

Even more important is having a lawyer in your corner who can effectively reveal the inadequacies in connection with that testing. This benefits DWI defendants during trial and before trial with negotiation.

Do not overlook the importance of this particular aspect of a DWI charge. REMEMBER, with NJ DWI offenses, there is no plea bargaining in the traditional sense. This means that being a good person, losing your job, no record, family, etc. is not a basis for a downgraded charge. In fact, it is illegal for the Court to accept a dismissal or amended/downgraded charge without specific proof that there is a legal reason for doing so. One of these reasons could be that the SFST were not administered properly.

If you were arrested for DWI in NJ, make sure that you don’t discount this aspect of you case.


One response to “DWI Field Sobriety Test Administration and Police Error

  1. Pingback: DWI Field Sobriety Test Administration and Police Error | Essex … | U.S. Justice Talk

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