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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in New Hampshire

Under New Hampshire’s Implied Consent Law, officer’s have the right to ask drivers to submit to physical tests to determine a driver’s level of impairment.  These tests generally come before any sort of chemical test and the results often determine whether an officer will proceed to other tests.  The most common physical tests that will be administered by officers are the walk and turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), and stand on one leg tests.  These are the Standard Field Sobriety Tests recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and are the most accurate of the physical tests.  However, officers may also administer other physical and mental exercises to determine level of impairment.

Generally, before administering any physical test, the officer will ask the driver if they have any injury or ailment that may make it difficult for the driver to perform acts the officer may request.  At this point, it is absolutely imperative that the driver disclose anything that may lead to negative results.  Old and new leg injuries, arthritis, and even a common sinus infection can make it more difficult to walk, balance, or otherwise perform physical tests to the degree required by the officer.  These are not the only injuries and ailments that may negatively affect the ability of a driver to perform, and any possible injury should be disclosed.

Physical tests allowed under New Hampshire implied consent law may be admitted to evidence if they are performed in accordance with the provisions of RSA § 265-A:6.  This section makes it clear that a post-arrest physical test must, in all situations, be administered by a law enforcement officer who has been trained in the administration of physical tests and examinations.  The training must be given by a law enforcement agency or in a training program approved by the police standards and training council.  If the tests are administered by someone other than an officer, or by an officer who is not properly trained, the tests will be inadmissible as evidence before an administrative officer or in a court proceeding.  This section of Chapter 265-A was added to make sure that physical tests are performed in a consistent, reliable, and fair manner due to the fact that the results may be used against a defendant in a hearing or court proceeding in which punishment may be imposed against that defendant.

Field sobriety tests may be challenged in a number of ways.  First, the driver can argue that the officer was not properly trained to administer the tests and thus the results or any evidence gained from the tests is inadmissible.  It may also be argued that although the officer was properly trained, one or more of the tests were administered incorrectly, which lead to results that showed a level of impairment that was beyond the driver’s actual level of impairment.  Finally, an individual may argue that the officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the individual was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

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