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.

New Jersey DUI/DWI Lawyer – Truck Drivers and DUI

If your family relies on your New Jersey commercial driver’s license (CDL) for income, the consequences of a DUI conviction can be devastating.  Even if you are not on the job and just driving your own personal vehicle, a DUI conviction or refusal offense will result in a one-year mandatory CDL suspension (three years if the violation occurred in a HAZMAT truck).  You will also lose your basic license for three to 12 months.  Commercial truckers convicted of a DUI are unlikely to ever find work driving a truck again.  And if you are convicted of drunk driving a second time, your CDL will be permanently revoked and you will lose your basic drivers license for two years.  At the Law Office of Edward M. Janzekovich, our goal is always to avoid a conviction for our clients.

Driving a Commercial Truck Under the Influence

As you can see, New Jersey law is harsh when it comes to truckers who drive while intoxicated in their own cars.  So you can imagine how the law treats drivers who drink before getting behind the wheel of a large commercial vehicle.  In 1990, the New Jersey Legislature cracked down on trucking safety and enacted the New Jersey Commercial Driver License Act.  Pursuant to the Act, it is illegal to operate a commercial motor vehicle in New Jersey with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or more.  The legal limit for driving a passenger car in New Jersey is 0.08 percent.  This law aims to discourage truckers from consuming even small amounts of alcohol in an effort to reduce accidents and fatalities.

What is a “Commercial Motor Vehicle?”

So, it is illegal operate a commercial motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.04 percent.  What if you are pulled over your RV while on vacation with a BAC of 0.05 percent, will you be charged with drunk driving?  Although RVs are large enough to constitute a “commercial motor vehicle,” the law makes an exception for certain privately owned recreational vehicles.  The following vehicles, however, will all trigger the lower 0.04 percent BAC threshold:

  • School buses
  • Passenger buses (If used to transport passengers to and from places of employment on a daily basis, even a bus with seven passenger seats will qualify as a commercial vehicle. If used less frequently, any bus designed to transport 16 or more passengers will trigger the lower BAC threshold).
  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more
  • Trucks displaying hazardous material placards

“Operation” of a Commercial Motor Vehicle

Trucking is a more a lifestyle than a job.  In covering long distances, drivers often sleep in their cabs at truck stops.  In New Jersey, “operation” of a motor vehicle does not require that the truck actually be moving.  The prosecutor only needs to prove that a driver intended to put the vehicle in motion, and that it was possible that the truck could be moved.  Therefore, it is possible to be charged with a DUI in a truck stop parking lot even if you never leave your cab.

Out of State Convictions

If you have been convicted of driving while intoxicated in another state, either in a truck or your personal vehicle, your New Jersey CDL will be suspended for one year.  If you are convicted a second time, your CDL will be permanently revoked.

New Jersey Commercial DWI Lawyer Edward M. Janzekovich Fights for Truck Drivers

If you are a commercial driver and you have been charged with a DUI, we understand the fear and anxiety you may be feeling.  Getting a DUI is a frightening experience for anyone, but for truckers, the stakes are even higher.  At the Law Office of Edward M. Janzekovich, we make it a priority to communicate with our clients.  We will explain what you can expect throughout the legal process and what your options are.  To speak to an experienced New Jersey DUI lawyer, call the Law Office of Edward M. Janzekovich at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today.  We represent clients throughout New Jersey, including Ocean County, Monmouth County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Union County and Somerset County.