Fourth Amendment rights and field sobriety tests questioned

A recent decision from a federal appeals court in another state might be of interest to our readers here in Poughkeepsie, New York. The court decided that a woman could pursue her case against a state trooper who stopped her, conducted field sobriety tests and then arrested her for drunk driving. Urine tests proved that she was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol of any kind.

According to her complaint, the officer stopped her on an evening in August 2008 because she neglected to turn off her high beams when she passed the officer’s squad car. The police report noted that the officer thought the woman’s pupils appeared constricted and she fumbled with her seatbelt before getting out of the car.

While conducting field sobriety tests the patrolman says he decided to arrest and charge her with driving under the influence because she hesitated during a numbers test. Then the woman had to spend two days in jail before she found a bail bondsman who would accept her payment with a credit card.

The woman’s attorney was glad the higher court overturned the lower court’s dismissal of the case. They proved that an officer must have substantial, articulable suspicion to pull someone out of their car and run them through a battery of field sobriety tests. The court agreed that officers do not have free rein to test then arrest someone who makes even the slightest mistake during the tests.

Without enough probable cause or several egregious mistakes during the field testing, an officer needs to obtain enough evidence to substantiate stopping a vehicle, conducting the tests and pursuing an arrest.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “A Sobriety Test, Two Days in Jail and a Lawsuit,” Steve Eder, June 13, 2012

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Glenn R. Bruno, Esq.

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