3/25/2016Tennessee: Passing Sobriety Tests Can Still Result In DUI
A motorist who performs extremely well on field sobriety tests can still be arrested for drunk driving.
A Tennessee motorist who drove normally and, in a judge's opinion, passed his field sobriety tests will nevertheless stand trial for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The state Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this month reinstated charges against Anthony John Silva, despite his excellent roadside performance.
The case began on January 19, 2014 when Franklin Police Officer Adam Cohen claimed he saw Silva driving at 46 MPH in a 35 zone. Officer Cohen testified that there was nothing at all suspicious about Silva's driving, aside from the speeding. During the traffic stop, Officer Cohen claimed he smelled alcohol and the driver admitted having three beers several hours earlier. Officer Cohen asked Silva to perform the standard battery of sobriety tests.
Officer Cohen noted every possible flaw in his report, claiming that during the recitation of the alphabet beginning with the letter "D," Silva said what sounded a bit like a "T." He also performed two recitations of the finger dexterity test when asked to perform three.
At this point, Silva was ordered to step out of the car and into the chilly 15 degree air to perform the walk and turn, in which the officer said Silva missed a step. Silva passed the one-leg stand. Unlike most DUI suspects, Silva stood for a long time without swaying and was entirely cooperative during the stop.
Williamson County Circuit Court Judge Deanna B. Johnson watched a video of the encounter and found Officer Cohen had not accurately described the situation. The judge found Silva properly said the letter "D," that Officer Cohen never said to perform three repetitions of the finger dexterity test, and that the single misstep in the heel and toe test was extremely minor. Judge Johnson ruled that Silva performed "extremely well" on the tests and should not have been arrested for DUI.
The three-judge appellate panel did not agree with this outcome. In a ruling earlier this month, the judges sided with prosecutors who argued that flawless passage of field sobriety tests is irrelevant to the ability of an officer to arrest a motorist for DUI.
"As our supreme court recognized, a motorist 'need not exhibit every known sign of intoxication in order to support a determination of probable cause,'" Judge John Everett Williams wrote for the panel. "When Officer Cohen stopped the defendant, he smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle, and the defendant had bloodshot and watery eyes. Officer Cohen asked the defendant if he had consumed any alcohol, and the defendant replied that he had consumed three beers. At this point, Officer Cohen had probable cause to believe that the defendant had committed the offense of driving under the influence, even if the defendant performed all field sobriety tests successfully."
The court ordered the charges against Silva reinstated. A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.