CAN AN OFFICER ASK FOR FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS WHEN HE SEES AN EQUIPMENT VIOLATION, SUCH AS DRIVING WITHOUT LICENSE PLATE LIGHTS, BUT NO ERRATIC DRIVING?
The Ohio Court of Appeals has held that when an officer is investigating a driver for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol (OVI) the officer must be able to point to certain indicators of impairment before the officer can request a driver submit to field sobriety tests.
A recent Ohio case – State v. Baker, 2018-Ohio-2285 found there was no reasonable suspicion for an officer to ask for field sobriety tests where:
Driver was pulled over for no rear license plate lights (an equipment violation)
No erratic driving
Driver wouldn’t look at the officer
Driving in an area late at night where there are many bars
Odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle
Driver had bloodshot and glassy eyes
Driver subsequently failed field sobriety tests and blew over the limit
The OVI charges, then, were dismissed.
DRIVER PULLED OVER FOR NO LICENSE PLATE LIGHT, ASKED TO PERFORM FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS, FAILED, AND BLEW OVER THE LIMIT
In State v. Baker, 2018-Ohio-2285, the Defendant was pulled over for driving without an illuminated rear license plate, which is considered an equipment violation – not a moving violation. When the officer approached the vehicle and began speaking with the driver, the officer noticed there was an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle and that the driver’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy.
Driving without a license plate light, the officer’s observations, and the fact that the Defendant was driving in an area where several bars were located were the factors the officer used to request the Defendant perform field sobriety tests.
The driver took and failed the field sobriety tests and was arrested for OVI. The officer took him to the station where he took a breath test and blew a .128 BAC. He was cited for both OVI (DUI) and illumination of rear plate.
On appeal, Defendant’s attorney argued that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct field sobriety tests. Without reasonable suspicion, he should not have been arrested and the OVI should have been dismissed.
REASONABLE SUSPICION REQUIRED TO CONDUCT FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS
An officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of alcohol in order to conduct field sobriety tests. State v. Bright, 2010-Ohio-1111. Courts have determined that reasonable suspicion is more than just a hunch that a driver is impaired. An officer must reasonably believe that all of the observations and factors of a traffic stop would leave him to believe that the driver was impaired by alcohol before he may ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests. Village of Kirtland Hills v. Strogin, 2006-Ohio-1450.
The Court in the Baker case determined that bloodshot and glassy eyes and an odor of alcohol, are not enough for a reasonable officer to believe a driver is impaired. The Court states there must be “other factors” that would lead an officer to believe a driver is impaired. The Court cited that other factors that may contribute to a reasonable suspicion are:
Erratic driving such as swerving or speeding
Not pulling to the side of the road correctly
Difficulty locating personal information or documents
The Defendant argued that while he did have bloodshot and glassy eyes and an odor of alcohol, he did not display any other sign of impairment. The Defendant was pulled over for an equipment violation (no license plate lights) and so the state could not show any erratic driving. He was also not slow to retrieve personal information requested by the officer.
The State countered in their argument that the Defendant displayed “other factors” in that the Defendant was driving at a late hour in an area where numerous bars are located. The State also indicated the officer had a reasonable suspicion of impairment because the Defendant refused to look at the officer in the face during their interaction.
The Court in Baker rejected the State’s argument and stated the factors the State argued had little bearing on the initial reason for why the Defendant was pulled over, and that an equipment violation, coupled with only the odor of alcohol and bloodshot, glassy eyes would not lead a reasonable officer to determine that the Defendant was operating a vehicle while impaired. Thus, there was no reasonable suspicion to justify asking the driver to take field sobriety tests and the OVI charges were dismissed.
It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether the officer actually had a reasonable suspicion to investigate you for OVI. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.