Interviewer: How is a standardized field sobriety test going to be used against someone?
Ron Mondello: That’s a great question. It’s used two-fold. Early on in the interview you asked me where the field sobriety tests fit in. Well, once you’re pulled over for some type of infraction – speeding, crossing the double yellow line, whatever the case may be – and then the officer engages you by asking you for your credentials and he smells either the odor of alcohol or notices that your eyes are bloodshot and then you fumble with your credentials, he’s going to ask you to exit the vehicle and more like than not call for some backup and have you perform the field sobriety tests.
The Field Sobriety Tests are Used as a Precursor to the Breathalyzer
He’s using that right there to determine whether or not he should take you down to the police station to administer the Breathalyzer. Why? Because he needs probable cause. You can’t take somebody down to the police station to take the Breathalyzer where there are absolutely no clues or indications that you’re intoxicated or that you’re impaired.
So, number one is it’s used to figure out whether or not you’re impaired and whether or not there’s probable cause to take you down to the station to take the Breathalyzer because you are impaired.
Number two, with these field sobriety tests, as I mentioned before, the state of New Jersey has a two-pronged approach to try to convict you of driving while intoxicated. The first prong is if you take the Breathalyzer and you blow a 0.08 or above, you are, per se, upon its face, intoxicated. But they have a second prong. If there’s something wrong with the blood alcohol concentration and the readings don’t come in, they can have a trial and try to convict you on observations only.
Part of the observations include everything we’ve spoken about – the field sobriety tests, your bloodshot eyes, the odor of alcohol, you fumbling through your glove box to locate the credentials, you leaning on the car for support, and then those clues that we’ve mentioned in the field sobriety tests.
A Poor Performance in the Field Sobriety Tests Does Not Mean You’re Going To Lose Your Case
Interviewer: If I took a field sobriety test and I think that I did not do a good job, does that mean I’m going to lose my case?
Ron Mondello: No, absolutely not. Unfortunately, a favorite phrase most attorneys love to use is, “That depends.” Of course it depends, because if your field sobriety tests were very, very poor, the probability of you being able to successfully defend against an observations case is going to be much more difficult. If they have a video, even that much more so.
Of course the converse is true. If you’ve done very, very well and you look like somebody out of the Marines standing there at attention on video, that’s going to assist or help in your defense.