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Field sobriety test results: often your word against an officer's

If a New Jersey police officer thinks you are operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, you may have your work cut out for you to avoid conviction if he or she places you under arrest and prosecutors file formal charges against you.

Remember that even if you did consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel, it doesn't necessarily mean you were breaking the law when you later got into your car to drive. DUI situations often arise based on a police officer's personal assessment of a situation. For instance, an officer who says your car was veering too far left of center in your lane may (sometimes mistakenly) conclude you were intoxicated.

Three tests you don't want to fail

After pulling you over, the officer may ask you to take one or more of several types of field sobriety tests. The problem is that many people have trouble performing well on these tests even when they're completely sober. If you don't fare well, your next car ride might take you directly to jail. The following information lets you know what to expect if you take a FST and what you can do to challenge results as evidence in some situations:

  • The walk-and-turn test is one of the most common types of FST. The police officer will observe your gait, balance and ability to follow simple instructions as you walk a straight line, with one foot in front of the other and arms held out to your sides at shoulder level. Usually, an officer will ask you to walk to a certain point, then turn and perform the whole test again in the other direction.
  • Standing on one leg while counting aloud is another way police officers determine whether they have probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving. If you stumble, keep putting you free leg down or can't count while you're performing the test, you may wind up facing DUI charges in court.
  • Your horizontal gaze nystagmus is a naturally occurring erratic movement of your eyeballs when you try to track an object from side to side or up and down without turning your head. However, intoxicated people's eyes usually jerk much sooner than the average maximum peripheral gaze point. In this test, the officer is checking your eyeball movement to determine if you might be drunk.

What if you have an eye condition that affects your peripheral vision? What if you have a past injury that makes it difficult for you to balance or stand on one leg? In fact, there are many types of health, physical or cognitive issues that may cause you to perform poorly on field sobriety tests even if you have not had a single drop of alcohol to drink.

If you believe your rights were violated during testing or the process of arrest, or you think you have grounds for challenging certain evidence, there are definite steps to take to access support resources to address such issues in court. The bottom line is that a DUI charge may not have to lead to a conviction and the subsequent negative consequences if you know your rights and how to protect them.

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