Imagine a common scenario where a person is driving home from dinner and is pulled over by the police for a minor traffic offense (e.g., failure to stop at a stop sign, use turn signals, etc.). The officer states that he smells alcohol on the driver’s breath and requests that the driver step out of the vehicle. The driver had a beer with dinner. The officer then asks that the driver submit to field sobriety tests to make sure the driver is able to drive home. Is this justifiable by the officer?
I recently discussed Rodriguez v. United States, which involved a driver who was stopped by an officer for a marked lanes violation. The driver was detained further so a drug dog could smell around the driver’s vehicle. The United States Supreme Court held that the stop exceeded the time necessary to conduct the stop and issue a ticket for the violation. The rule to be gathered from the case is this: any unnecessary detention is unlawful unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is violating the law.
This rule from Rodriguez applies to Ohio DUI/OVI cases. If an officer stops a vehicle for a traffic violation, detaining the driver to administer field sobriety tests is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
So, what constitutes “reasonable suspicion?” Reasonable suspicion is based on the “totality of the circumstances,” with one prominent Ohio case, State v. Evans, listing 11 factors for courts to consider when determining if an officer had reasonable suspicion. However, many more than 11 factors are often considered by courts in their reasonable suspicion analysis, particularly because reasonable suspicion is very fact and case-specific.
Back to our scenario above. Would the officer be justified in detaining the driver to administer field sobriety tests? The officer only observed a minor traffic violation and the odor of alcohol. The officer did not observe any other evidence that the driver was under the influence, such as bloodshot/glassy eyes, difficulty answering the officer’s questions, slurred speech, etc. With the additional observations, most courts would hold that the officer had reasonable suspicion. However, since the officer did not observe those in our scenario, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion.
If the police stop a vehicle and detect the odor of alcohol coming from the driver, the driver is going to be removed from the car for field sobriety tests. While the officer may feign concern about the motorists’ ability to drive, in reality it is to gather evidence for the prosecution of the driver for DUI/OVI. Thus, if you are suspected of DUI/OVI in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, do not submit to the officer’s request that you perform the field sobriety tests. They are designed for even sober people to fail. Instead, contact a DUI/OVI attorney immediately.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI/OVI Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with DUI/OVI in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced criminal defense 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.