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Administration of Tests During a Stop

Interviewer: At what point is the standardized field sobriety test administered? Is this before the arrest or after the arrest?

Ron Mondello: Good question. I’m only going to speak about New Jersey law, although I’m admitted in Florida and New York. I don’t practice in those states.

There Can Be a Variety of Reasons for a Police Stop

In New Jersey a police officer will pull you over and can only pull you over if he believes there’s probable cause for the stop. Now, there are dozens and dozens of reasons why a police officer might pull you over, but in the context of a DWI or DUI, let’s use some of the more frequent reasons. You’ve crossed over the double yellow line. You’re speeding; you’re driving too quickly. In reverse, you’re driving too slowly.

Let’s assume the police officer witnesses you driving over the double line several times and your tire touches that double yellow line, crosses back. He’ll pull you over, and the discussion will most likely be as follows. Of course, first they’ll ask you for your credentials. While you’re speaking to the police officer, if you have consumed an alcoholic beverage, the odor of alcohol might be present on your breath.

Once Police Detects Alcohol on Your Breath; that’s When They Start Conducting the Field Sobriety Tests

Once they detect that, the next question they’re going to ask you is, “Have you been drinking this evening?” If you say yes, more likely than not, that will trigger the standardized field sobriety tests, and they’ll also use a combination of non-standardized field sobriety tests. We can get into that a little bit later.

That’s typically when a police officer would start conducting the field sobriety tests. It is unusual for a police officer to wait until they brought you down to the station because they use the field sobriety tests as indicia that you should be brought down to the police station so that they can administer the Breathalyzer.

Interviewer: While this is happening, is the individual videoed?

Ron Mondello: It does depend. In most of the cities, towns, boroughs, in New Jersey, most of the police officers’ vehicles are equipped with video cameras. That doesn’t mean that 100% of the time the answer to your question is yes. The video might be on, but the police officer’s car may be parked in such a way that it doesn’t capture your performance on the field sobriety tests, so it depends.

By Ronald P. Mondello