What Happens if I Refuse Field Sobriety Tests in New Jersey?

New Jersey law gives police and prosecutors several methods for proving guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. Every driver on New Jersey roads must submit to breath testing if a police officer asks them to do so after arresting them on suspicion of DWI. Police must have probable cause to make an arrest before they can conduct mandatory breath testing. They may ask a person to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) at the scene of a traffic stop. Unlike breath testing, state law does not require drivers to submit to FSTs. What happens, though, when a driver refuses an officer’s request to perform FSTs? Read on to learn more about what might happen in this situation.

New Jersey Law Does Not Require Participation in Field Sobriety Tests

Police must have probable cause to suspect DWI before they may arrest you or require you to submit a breath sample. The Fourth Amendment establishes the probable cause requirement for an arrest. The statute that defines the offense of refusal to submit to breath testing sets out three requirements:
– An officer had probable cause to believe that a person committed DWI.
– They placed the person under arrest.
– The officer requested a breath test, and the person refused.

FSTs appear nowhere in the DWI statute or the refusal statute. They are merely one of several methods police officers may use to assess whether a person appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Almost Impossible to “Pass”

New Jersey police typically use three FSTs that have the approval of the federal government: one-leg stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN). The first two tests involve physical coordination, while the HGN test looks for involuntary eye movements that supposedly indicate intoxication. These are not the only factors that an officer will consider, though. They also look at how well a person follows the instructions for the tests. Some of the instructions are quite complicated.

The set of instructions for the walk-and-turn test, for example, consists of more than just walking heel-to-toe on a straight line for nine steps, and then walking nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting point. They also require the person to look at their feet, keep their arms at their sides, and count each step aloud while walking.

Remembering all of these requirements in the middle of a traffic stop can be difficult for anybody. Missing any element of the test could result in “failing,” even if a person walks heel-to-toe with perfect agility. The instructions even state that an officer may not repeat any part of the instructions once a person has stated that they understand them.

Refusing Field Sobriety Tests Will Not Prevent an Arrest

An officer who asks you to perform field sobriety tests is looking for probable cause to arrest you for DWI. Refusing the FSTs deprives the officer of evidence they could use against you. It does not, however, stop them from looking for other evidence. They could still arrest you, but they would have to do so based on other evidence of impairment, such as the smell of alcohol or your appearance, speech, behavior, or driving performance.

DWI is a serious offense under New Jersey law. You need the help of an experienced and knowledgeable DWI lawyer who can advocate for your rights. Evan Levow has dedicated 100% of his law practice to DWI defense. Please contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to talk about your case.

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