New Jersey DUI Attorney Discusses the Field Sobriety Vision Test, Also Known as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus TestIf you are pulled over and arrested for DWI in New Jersey, the police have a few options for proving that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Two of the things that police officers may do is (1) conduct a field sobriety test, or (2) use an official breathalyzer test, which is meant to determine scientifically if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit of .08%. Because the government is required to adhere to specific and complicated guidelines for administering and maintaining BAC tests and records, it is important that you retain an experienced attorney if you are ever arrested for a DUI. A knowledgeable DUI/DWI attorney will be able to review the records and may be able to have the BAC evidence thrown out so that it cannot be used against you.

If the BAC evidence is thrown out, or otherwise compromised or excluded, then the government will be required to rely on other evidence to prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as the field sobriety test. A police officer’s observations and notes regarding how a driver acts or appears, when combined with evidence of the officer’s experience in assessing impairment, can be used to convict a driver of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

In New Jersey, police officers may ask a driver to do a number of different exercises in an attempt to determine if the person is intoxicated, under the influence of any substances, or otherwise impaired, including standing on one leg, reciting the alphabet backwards, walking in a straight line, or following the police officer’s finger with the person’s eyes. Not all of the tests are admissible in court. The vision test, where a driver is asked to move his or her eyes from side to side, is considered scientifically reliable under the law. This is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test.

Nystagmus is a term to describe fast, uncontrollable movements of the eyes – sometimes also referred to as dancing eyes. Impairment due to alcohol and the use of certain drugs can cause involuntary nystagmus. Accordingly, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performed studies to determine if the HGN could be used to reliably determine if a person was operating a car while intoxicated or impaired by drugs, and the studies found the HGN test is 77% accurate in determining whether a person has a 0.10 BAC or more.

What Police Officers Are Looking for When Performing the Test

Police officers are provided with some training in how to perform an HGN test, including what signs of impairment to look for. The guidelines suggest that a police officer is checking for equal pupil size and whether the eyes are jerking involuntarily from side to side while at rest or while tracking an object from side to side. Three specific “clues” that officers are trained to look for include:

  1. The lack of smooth movement from side to side – bouncing rather than rolling smoothly.
  2. Distinct and sustained nystagmus when the eyes are held at maximum deviation and held for a minimum of four seconds.
  3. Onset of nystagmus when the eyes have moved less than 45 degrees to the side.

How a Lawyer May Challenge the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Scientific and medical experts have concerns that the administration of the HGN test by police officers may be unreliable because these officers are not ophthalmologist, trained in the detection of eye movements and or eye pathologies. Some experts have also suggested that the NHTSA standards for performing the HGN test could lead to false results. One independent study concluded that, in a controlled laboratory test, police officers were wrong 41% of the time about whether a person with a .10% BAC experienced HGN.

Similarly, HGN can be caused by a number of other things, including injury, tiredness, illness, or medical conditions. In the case of Schultz v. State, a case from Maryland, the court recognized at least 38 medical conditions unrelated to alcohol that can cause HGN, including the flu, consumption of excessive amounts of caffeine, head trauma, some prescription drugs, and exposure to certain chemicals or toxins.

Because a police officer is looking at your behavior, appearance, and how you perform on these tests, your performance on any field sobriety test, as well as your ability to speak to the police officer and answer questions, can help in your defense against a DUI/DWI conviction. At the end of the day, these tests are not perfect and subject to human error. For that reason, it is important to always consult an experienced lawyer. A DUI attorney may be able to fight the charges against you or have the charges dismissed completely.

New Jersey DUI/DWI Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Can Help if You Are Arrested for Drunk Driving

An arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have life-changing consequences for any driver. Such a charge, and possible trial, can also be extremely complicated, especially when specific tests or scientific evidence is involved. If you are charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence of any substance in New Jersey, an experienced DWI/DUI attorney can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.

Allowing a Drunk Driver to Operate a Motor Vehicle in NJ


Most people are aware that if they operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated, they can be charged with a DWI offense. But what very few people are aware of is that even if you are not driving the vehicle, you could still be found guilty of a DWI violation.

The New Jersey DWI statute is NJSA 39:4-50. Section (A) of this statute states: Except as provided in subsection (g) (school zone) of this section, a person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendants blood or permits another person who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug to operate a motor vehicle owned by him or in his custody or control or permits another to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendants blood shall be subject : The penalties are all exactly the same regardless if you are driving drunk or allowing a person to drive drunk. The New jersey Supreme Court holds the Allowing offense at the same level of responsibility as the act of actual drunk driving, banning any plea bargaining, adhering to the Zero Tolerance policy. In State v Hessan, the Court said ” The act of unleashing a drunk driver onto the highways creates the very risk to the safety of other drivers and the public that is posed by the intoxicated driver.”  However, on an Allowing offense, the State has to prove additional different elements than the original DWI charge.

The State has to prove that the person being charged with the allowing offense had owned the vehicle or had custody and control over it. The State also has to prove that the person being charged with the allowing offense had knowledge of the intoxication of the driver and had their consent to operate the vehicle. These elements are not so easy to prove at times.

A typical scenario for an allowing a drunk driver to operate a motor vehicle violation is when two or more friends go out drinking.  At the end of the night, the driver tells the passengers that he is too drunk to drive home, and one of the passengers decide to drive home because they are only buzzed. The police stop the vehicle, the drunk owner is sound asleep in the passenger seat completely unaware as to what is happening. Both are arrested and charged with DWI.  The same scenario happens if the registered owner of the vehicle is completely sober, in the passenger seat, but the driver is intoxicated. This is typically a husband and wife scenario in the vehicle.

If you or a loved one has been charged with an Allowing offense, you should hire a lawyer whose sole practice specializes in DWI / DUI defense. The facts and circumstances surrounding the allegation of the charge need to be closely examined to identify available defenses and mitigating factors.

The Law Office of Edward M. Janzekovich is a law firm with a sole focus of defending persons charged with DWI / DUI related offenses. The defense strategy used is to identify legal discrepancies in police procedure that implicate constitutional, medical, scientific or evidentiary issues, with the motor vehicle stop, field sobriety tests and blood alcohol tests.

Implied Consent

Most people are aware that if they are stopped by law enforcement and there is reasonable suspicion that they are driving while intoxicated, the driver is required to provide a sample to determine if they are under the influence, but a sample of what?  The law varies from state to state.  For instance:

The Implied Consent Law in New Jersey is different than that of Rhode Island.  In Rhode Island, Implied Consent means that any person who drives a motor vehicle in Rhode Island has given consent to Chemical Test (Breath-Blood-Urine – arresting officers choice apparently) to determine the amount of alcohol/drugs, if any,  in your system after you have been arrested for suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI).   Refusing to provide that sample is an additional charge carrying additional license suspensions and fines. (source – RI DMV website)

The New Jersey Implied Consent Law that states that all persons operating a motor vehicle on New Jersey roadways has agreed to submit to a Breath Test following an arrest for suspected drinking and driving.  In addition to the original underlying penalties of the driving while intoxicated offense, failing to provide a breath sample will result in an additional charge carrying an additional period of suspension and other penalties.

However, New Jersey’s implied consent law does not currently mandate that you submit to a blood test or urine test.  If taken to the hospital as a result of an investigation, such as an accident, you most likely did not perform standardized field sobriety tests.  If you are suspected of being under the influence of an alcohol or drug, you will be asked for your consent to voluntarily provide a sample of your blood or urine to test.  This is because although the breath test machine used in New Jersey, the Alcotest 7110c, is designed to be mobile and transportable to the scene or hospital, it is not the practice in New Jersey.  So to gather evidence of intoxication to be used against you, your blood or urine will be required.

If you believe you have alcohol or drugs in your system, or if you just do not want to, you should refuse to voluntarily give consent for the collection of your blood or urine.  If a DWI charge is to be pursued against you, a judge would have to issue a warrant (Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures – barring exigent circumstances) for non-consensual blood testing to collect a sample. However, if a warrant is obtained, you are legally required to provide the type of sample described in the warrant and reasonable force may be used to collect that sample if necessary.  Refusing to provide a sample after a warrant is issued will result in an additional charge(s) carrying additional license suspensions and penalties, which may also expose you to potential criminal charges.

So, according to the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicle website, a New Jersey resident on vacation, visiting a relative or just driving through Rhode Island that is stopped for a suspected DWI is required to submit to chemical testing.  Chemical testing of your breath, blood or urine, without the need of a warrant, even though as a New Jersey license holder, your implied consent requirements are for only breath samples.

* Disclaimer – Edward Janzekovich is a licensed attorney in the State of New Jersey and not in Rhode Island.  The information provided is to contrast implied consent laws between NJ and RI. Information is obtained directly from the Rhode Island DMV website and this is not to be interpreted as providing Rhode Island legal advice.