The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Delaware County recently held that when an officer believes a driver may be impaired by alcohol, he must be able to point a reasonable articulable suspicion of impaired driving (i.e. a traffic violation) before he can order the driver to perform field sobriety tests. State v. Chattoo, 2020-Ohio-6800.
Based on his observations, an officer must decide if another reasonable officer would also believe that a driver is possibly impaired by alcohol and continue his investigation. In State v. Spillers, (March 24, 2000), Darke App. No. 1504 the court found that a “slight” odor of alcohol, coupled with common traffic violations do not alone give an officer a reasonable and articulable suspicion to expand the scope of the traffic stop.
McDonalds Manager Calls in a Suspected Drunk Driver in the Drive Thru
In the Chattoo case, a manager at McDonalds called in a suspected drunk driver in his drive-thru. A Powell officer initiated the traffic stop and an officer from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office later took over.
The evidentiary problems at issue here were:
- The 911 caller from McDonalds testified that the driver had slurred speech and was falling asleep at the wheel;
- However, there was no testimony that the Powell officer who initiated the traffic stop heard the 911 call or dispatch;
- The Powell officer who first pulled over the driver did not testify;
- Defendant was not operating the vehicle by the time the Delaware County Sheriff arrived (who did testify);
- The Delaware Sheriff (the State’s only testifying witness) did not himself witness any traffic violations and testified that he didn’t know why the Powell officer first pulled the driver over.
Defendant argued that the Delaware Sheriff failed to provide any evidence of reasonable suspicion of impaired driving, and the officer skipped that step in his investigation altogether. The officer jumped straight to field sobriety tests.
Because the State failed to provide any evidence of reasonable suspicion of impaired driving to justify a stop, the Delaware Court of Appeals found that the case should be dismissed.
It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you, including whether the officer potentially lacked a reasonable suspicion to investigate you for OVI or any other criminal violation. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.
Written by Anthony Iori, Esq.