A recent case from the 2nd District in Ohio, State v. Nelson (2017-Ohio-2884), dealt with the issue of when does law enforcement have a reasonable suspicion to require a driver to submit to field sobriety tests.
Reasonable Suspicion to Conduct Field Sobriety Tests in Ohio
The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantee’s the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. A police officer may stop and detain a motorist when he or she has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the motorist has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a criminal or traffic offense. This reasonable, articulable suspicion is evaluated under a totality of the circumstances test.
However, having a reasonable, articulable suspicion of a traffic violation, by itself, cannot justify the administration of field sobriety tests. More is required, such as glassy/bloodshot eyes, the smell of alcohol, an admission by the driver of recently consuming alcohol, difficulties providing a driver’s license, and problems exiting the vehicle are reasons that could justify field sobriety tests.
In State v. Nelson, the officer testified during a motion hearing that he observed Nelson commit a marked lanes violation at approximately 9:30 PM and pulled Nelson over. Nelson had no problems in looking through her purse for her driver’s license, but did have bloodshot eyes and a moderate odor of alcohol emanating from her vehicle. Nelson stated that she had been drinking last night and appeared to be confused as to what day it was.
Based on these observations, the officer asked Nelson to exit her vehicle. Nelson’s behavior upon exiting the vehicle was not noteworthy, but the officer decided to administer field sobriety tests, which indicated that Nelson was impaired. Nelson was then arrested and charged with DUI / OVI, which was a felony because of the number of previous DUI / OVI convictions that Nelson had. Nelson later submitted to a breathalyzer and tested over the legal limit.
Motion to Suppress Field Sobriety Tests
Nelson’s attorney filed a motion to suppress, arguing that there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion for the officer to conduct field sobriety tests. The trial court agreed, finding that Nelson did not admit to drinking the evening of the stop, her traffic violation was “de minimis,” and that her speech was not impaired. Moreover, the court also found that Nelson’s movement upon exiting her vehicle was not indicative of impairment, there were no complaints about her driving from third parties, and her stop was not particularly late.
The trial court held that while Nelson’s traffic violation was not substantial and could have supported the officer’s belief that Nelson was impaired, but it did not rise to the level of reasonable, articulable suspicion.
In addition, the moderate smell of alcohol was not given much weight because it is legal to drink and drive in Ohio. It is only illegal to be impaired while driving. Moreover, Nelson did not admit to drinking on the night of the stop.
What This Case Should Tell You About DUI / OVI in Ohio
State v. Nelson drives home the principle that you should never admit to drinking and driving in Ohio. The court explained that slightly different facts, such as Nelson having admitted to consuming alcohol that night, may have resulted in the court finding reasonable, articulable suspicion to conduct field sobriety tests. If you are pulled over and suspected of DUI / OVI, do not perform field sobriety tests or admit to drinking. Instead, call an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI attorney immediately.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI Attorney
If you have been charged with DUI / OVI in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your DUI / OVI case.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for DUI / OVI:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Union County, Madison County and Delaware County