What should happen if a police officer pulls your car over, arrests you, and then asks you to perform (fail) field sobriety tests at the station. You are ultimately charged with a DUI, although the initial arrest was without cause.
This scenario plays out with Mr. David Grove, who moved to suppress (prevent evidence from being shown in a trial) the results of sobriety tests conducted after law enforcement officers transported him from the scene of a traffic stop to a nearby police station. Grove was stopped on a cold North Dakota night for operating a vehicle without taillights. During the stop, Grove stepped out of the vehicle to inspect his taillights, meanwhile the officer smelled alcohol on Grove’s breath.
“After smelling alcohol on Grove’s breath and conversing with Grove, the officer asked Grove to submit to field sobriety tests. Grove agreed, and the officer demonstrated the one leg stand test. The officer and Grove discussed how cold it was at the scene. The officer suggested Grove sit in the officer’s heated police car. The district court found that Grove ‘welcomed’ this invitation. No field sobriety tests were performed outdoors at the scene of the stop, nor were any performed inside the police car.” City of Devils Lake v. Grove, 755 N.W.2d 485, 489 (2008). The officers then decided to move the tests to the police station. Grove was told that he was not under “arrest” but was “detained” for the purpose of conducting the field sobriety tests. (He failed those tests at the station.)
Before trial, Grove moved to prevent his field sobriety tests results from being presented to the jury. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the DUI charges. The Supreme Court of North Dakota reviews the district court ruling.
An “arrest” occurs when circumstances exist that would cause a reasonable person to conclude he was under arrest and not free to leave. An officer’s subjective intent or outward statements do not necessarily control whether, or when, a party is under arrest. An arrest must be supported by probable cause. Probable cause to arrest a driver for driving under the influence exists if the police officer (1) observes some signs of physical or mental impairment, and (2) has reason to believe the driver’s impairment is caused by alcohol. A temporary detention can become an illegal de facto arrest if an investigative detention lasts too long or its manner of execution unreasonably infringes an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court of ND concluded that the officers’ transportation of Grove from the site of the traffic stop to the Law Enforcement Center could not be supported on reasonable suspicion alone and constituted a de facto arrest.
The officer who stopped Grove was obliged to limit the investigative methods employed during the stop to the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel the officer’s suspicion in a short period of time. City of Devils Lake v. Grove, 755 N.W.2d 485, 492 (2008). “In its order, the district court noted that the ‘officer while inside his vehicle could have completed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN), alphabet recitation test as well as an onsite screening test (SD–2), all of which may have established probable cause to arrest the driver for a DUI offense at the scene’ of the stop.” City of Devils Lake v. Grove, 755 N.W.2d 485, 493 (2008).
The Court held that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s transport of Grove away from the scene of the traffic stop constituted a de facto arrest because it was not constitutionally justified by the officers’ reasonable and articulable suspicion that Grove had been driving under the influence. Reasonable suspicion alone was an inadequate basis for the transportation by law enforcement of a package from the place where suspicion arose to a wholly different venue. The evidence of the failed field sobriety tests was properly suppressed and DUI charges dropped as fruits of an illegal arrest.
We don’t have snow in San Diego and the weather is much nicer here. However, police officers routinely move DUI suspects to a different location to perform the field sobriety tests. (Remember, in most circumstances the field sobriety tests are not mandatory in the State of California. You do not need to perform them in the first place. They are usually only used to bolster the probable cause to arrest you and as evidence of a DUI at trial). It is important to hire an attorney willing to put work at the pre-trial stage of your case. As you can see in the Grove case, a good motion to suppress arguing that the initial stops and/or arrests are illegal can change the whole dynamic of the case. Mr. Grove’s DUI was dismissed.
If you have been charged with a DUI in San Diego State or Federal Court, contact LAWSTACHE™ LAW FIRM. Attorneys Anton Vialtsin and Jeremy Delicino have experience protecting those accused of federal and California crimes. Our office is conveniently located in downtown San Diego. You can reach our office by calling (619) 357-6677 or by sending an e-mail.
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