Driver Arrested for DUI After Passing All 6 Field Sobriety Tests

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on September 9th, 2012

The purpose of "field sobriety tests" (FSTs) is, of course, to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol. Rather than let the officer arrest anyone he wants, the tests supposedly provide objective evidence of impairment from alcohol.     

The usual DUI investigation includes the administration of 3 FSTs to the driver.  Commonly, this consists of the 3 "standardized" FSTs (SFSTs) recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand, and horizontal gaze nystagmus (the "eye test").  If some cops aren’t happy with the results, they may administer one or two more tests, hoping that the suspect will finally fail one of them.  

And then again, some cops just ignore the evidence…

Tennessee: Improper to Arrest Someone for Passing DUI Test

Knoxville, TN.  Sept. 5 — A Tennessee motorist who passed six roadside sobriety tests should not have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Friday. The three-judge panel rejected the attempt by prosecutors to overturn a trial court’s finding that David D. Bell should not have been taken into custody on January 12, 2010 after he displayed "excellent" mental acuity after being pulled over by a county sheriff’s deputy.

Bell had made a wrong turn in a construction area, briefly driving on the wrong side of the road — a mistake that a number of other confused drivers had made that day. Sevierville Police Officer Timothy Russell, who had extensive DUI training, arrived on the scene to take over from the deputy. Russell asked Bell to perform a four-finger count; say the alphabet from the letter G to S; identify the year of his fifth, sixth or seventh birthday; perform a one-legged stand while counting to thirty; and do a nine-step walk-and-turn. On the stand, Officer Russell testified that his mental performance was excellent, but that Bell "did not plant and turn as I had instructed him to." So Russell placed Bell under arrest.

Officer Russell admitted he did not follow proper procedure by turning off his flashing blue lights, which is a known source of distraction for the plant-and-turn test. After reviewing dashcam video from that night, the trial judge rejected Officer Russell’s conclusion.

"I honestly think that he did pretty dog-gone good on the field sobriety tests, better than most I’ve seen," Sevier County Circuit Court Judge Rex Henry Ogle observed. "I couldn’t pass them as well as he did."

Judge Ogle found the initial traffic stop legitimate but granted a suppression motion because the arrest went too far. The three-judge appellate panel also reviewed the videotape and sided with the trial judge. The appeals court found ample reason to suspect Bell might have been intoxicated, but the probable cause evaporated after testing.

"We interpret the slightly more colorful comments made by the trial court in its ruling from the bench on the defendant’s suppression motion as a finding, as a factual matter, that the defendant passed all of the field sobriety tests that he was given," Judge John Everett Williams wrote for the three-judge panel. "The state is not required to perform field sobriety tests on an individual prior to arresting him or her for driving under the influence. However, if the state chooses to administer such tests, it may not simply disregard the results if the individual involved performs them successfully. Had the defendant failed any of the field sobriety tests, we have no doubt that the state would have argued that the defendant’s failure provided strong evidence in support of probable cause. We believe that the defendant’s consistent success on a battery of such tests is likewise compelling evidence — in the other direction."

To paraphrase the great Humphrey Bogart film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre…"FSTs? FSTs!  I don’t need no stinkin’ FSTs!"

  • Erika

    The officer should have followed his procedure with turning off the lights. If it is a known distraction he should already know. The arrest was unnecessary and the officer was just looking for an excuse to make an arrest.

  • yuliana T. Ramirez

    I feel that if the gentleman passed all four sobriety test, there was no reason for the officer to place him under arrest. It was the officer that didnt follow his procedures correctly by not turning off his lights, maybe thats why the gentleman was distracted at first.

  • Arcelina E. Trujillo-Garza

    The Officer should not have made an arrest. If the defendant did pass all test he should of let him go. With the lights they are very distracting and you can not concentrate at all with the lights shinning bright in your eyes.

  • I agree with Erika and Yuliana and Arcelina. Why do officers feel like they have the right to do what ever they want? If he passes a sobriety test then what right do they have to detain him??

  • Incunabulum

    Given the logic behind this ruling, it seems that police will in the future simply stop performing FST’s and just arrest anyone suspected of DUI.

  • HonkingAntelope

    Sounds to me like this gentleman ought to sue the pants off of that department for a patently false arrest.

  • AshleyCasias

    The arrest went to far. The officer took advantage of his power, and tried to convict a inncocent man.

  • Abraham Lopez

    Many sheriffs now in days seem to arrest or book innocent people judged as dui drivers for a simple road driving mistake or just plain & simple mistakes. In my opinion congress should come up with a law that will save those who r not illegally drunk and pass all sobriety test properly and all other test that will determine if the suspect is dangerously & wreckessly drunk.

  • vincent pasqualichio

    I do not believe in driving while intoxicated but i do believe in constution. And worry about a police state. Since persons are afraid to take a girlfriend ,wife or just socailize. And madd is winning. My sugestion is to create a a lawers super fund for then any person being perscuted against laws only to make mloney for insurance company, muicpalties and make money for attorneys who do not defend clients. Even if innocent with getting into much detail. There are about 3 million yearly dui arrests from what I have read. You seem to be very sincere in your comments and research. But with out at this time with out getting into detail. It costs money for a good defence. And educate persons on this dui matter, I live in New YORK State. But there are many good attorneys but to expensive for working man. My idea is to create a fund for just this cause you have outlined and much research on subject. I have been a victim of unjust laws and was ill and unable to take breatlizer test and asked to be brougth to hosptital for legitiment medical problems. I asked requested for police to give me blood test for my bac. Since was kept overnigth for observation for a hearth condtion and other medical problems. But my request for a blood test ton prove innocence or guilt was not carried out. So it seems like police do not care about justice even with so many laws that are unjust not to tell you since you are aware of them. But my suggestion is to have a voltunary slush fund so all may get the best legal and scientic evidence for justice, Just one example why is a machine judge and jury over a human being. I could drink 2 beers in one hour since a person builds uo tolerance to any drug and even alchol. If every person that was accused of dui or dwi would make a contibution to a nation wide fund to be used by just attorneys such as you. And if just one dollar would create a slush fund that would be 3 million dollars. But could donate what ever they wished to 10 dollars a hunded dollars and pooibly matched by aba. Then we could create a fund to get all unjust legal stops and even if you are sleeping in your car can be accused of dwi. If you forget to take keys out of igntion and for lack. of better word say put in your glove department of your car. Because madd is winning and more unjust laws being pused by polticians. So we could build up a legal defence fund to figth unjust laws. Because police after let us say 11 p.m. will stop you and make excuse for illegal stop. And even if alone will call for backup. So to have a witness and even if they do not there word and many corrupt police in this country. Will make up one for stop. And this is only law circumvented our consutional rigths and states rigths. Now they have found out a new way of creating revune for all but victim. Of dui stop. Except person being victim of stop. Then using this fund also to get best scientic evidence for accused person. And any person accused by these unjust laws to get money now to figth judges and goverment out of control on these laws ever since all states blackmailed by .08 as nation wide standard. Or just police using common law as they have on me parked not driving not drinking but accused of dui under common law this was a revelation to me never heard of it. And if alone police do not read you miranda rigths as they are supposed to do there word is always even if they do not. They will lie and even lie about ticket in writing since you have no witness if driving alone. And then if we could create this let us say super fund. And send let us say a brochire to explain it is for then getting same legal resources only wealthy person can afford. Not to defend a person if intoxicated but were person can prove he was not. After revue by attorneys that would. Use this fund for a person whom is acussed of driving while impaired but is only stopped for police in this law if person was not intoxicated. Even with unfair laws singed by presdent Clinton for bac of .08 nation wide or states would not recieve higway funds. That is why it is a nation cause. So this is only a suggestion. And only attorneys who could prove you innocent by what ever resourse they can use and figth tooth and nail for justice. For most attorneys its just a fast way of picking up money. Not to figth for justice. So all accused of dui or dwi. If have a legtiment case. To have attorney defend then as they mostly do not unless they hire high powerd knowlable attorney on this subject and truly believe in justice. Not being intoxcated if bac was in reasonable levels. And different tolraces. Not to be all lumped in to one category. Example say a few years back was stopped by honest police officer. As I was in example. I was stopped for making rolling stop at stop sign and was stooped by I will call him a just ppolice officer whom I have respect for him being jugde if I were intoxicated I was notas he stopped me. I talked to him in polite way. He told me I know you have been drink but not intoxicted just told me to walk say 20 feet up and back to him. And he told me machine would convict me. Since he used common sence told me go home since I can see you are not. Not a machine who is judge and jury. He was a fair person. But 90 percent will lie make up false statements. So you must figth fire with fire. Since goverment has unlimited funds and we do not. And this fund would be in trust for this purpose only. Not to be used for anything but since attorney has paid much to get his or her degree in law and should be paid for services. It is only fair. This would be used to contest madds laws and for victims whom say it will not ever happen again. Or persons whom have been lucky so far to drink socaily and responce abilty. I feel this for start no knowing madd and jugdes and police who victimize perons for no good reason. Just to get revune from victim. I feel this would be best way to combat unjust laws to they understand that justice will override police and being guilty before supposed crime dui occured would know have to figth legtiment cli Since we all have different tolrances to any drug. Not a person who is to intoxicated to drive safely. But majority of persons victimed by unjust police tactics and unfair laws nation wide. So if person willing to just give one dollar that would be 3 million. But could give more depending if educated properly as insrance comany. And not only persons whom have been victimzed by so called law inforcement agents. And educate all even if they do not believe in drunken driving as laws state ,08 because many person say it can not happen to me then they get victimized. So in my opinion would be only way to counter madd. Since they would now know a national attorney network was ceated for all victims. Or potencial victims. As I have stated which I agee withand if people whom drive would also be aware of consequnces of these laws that if not fogth tooth and nail by competent attorney who woul want to be part of this nation wide network and attorney must have knowlege of techniques how to besides plea bargain. Because a dui stays so long on your record and in computer police use to check your driving record and if you had one dui it could effect persons in so many ways.THat if they went to a wedding and police new wedding was taking place will target it. So to educate and ask for small donation for justice. And it would be used for there defence if this occured to them. It is my suggestion to you. And I feel this is only way to counter madd and a police state. As a insrance policy now madd would know there unfair laws passed by corrup polticians. Since Clinton has created this by blackmailing all of nation in signing this law.

  • Michael wallace

    I was arrested for dwi but I passed all test in Southlake tx. And I Did a breathalyzer And blow a .003 way under the limit and I’m 23 year old and was still arrested I just want to know if I can sue