Arizona Court Affirms DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Challenge to Officer’s Decision to Remove Him from the Vehicle

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether the arresting police officer was justified in removing the defendant from the vehicle to perform several field sobriety tests. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s challenges to the traffic stop and affirmed his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, at around 2 a.m., an officer was on patrol in an area that was known as a road used by drunk drivers. The officer noticed the defendant pass by, traveling about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. The officer noted no other traffic infraction.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, and the car smelled of alcohol. The defendant admitted to having something to drink, but explained that he was not feeling the effects of the alcohol. The defendant understood all the officer’s questions and responded in a clear manner. However, the officer then performed a horizontal nystagmus test to determine if the defendant was intoxicated or tired.

After noticing that the defendant’s eyes did not smoothly track, the officer asked the defendant out of the vehicle and performed additional field sobriety tests, culminating in a breath test. After the results of the breath test indicated that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit, the officer arrested the defendant.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that at the time the officer asked the defendant to get out of the car, the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to believe the defendant was impaired by alcohol. The defendant focused on the distinction between having a little to drink and then driving, which is legal, and driving with a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit. The defendant claimed, at most, the officer had a reasonable suspicion that he had consumed alcohol, but not that he was impaired.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument, finding that, looking at the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s decision to remove the defendant from the vehicle was justified. The court relied on the following facts:

  • the time of night;
  • the location of the traffic stop;
  • the car was speeding;
  • the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot;
  • the odor of alcohol coming from the car;
  • the defendant’s admission to consuming alcohol earlier that evening;
  • the result of the horizontal nystagmus test

The court found that all these factors, when considered together, gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was intoxicated.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you recently were arrested and charged with an Arizona drunk driving offense, contact attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Police officers routinely make mistakes that can result in the inadmissibility of evidence, making it impossible for prosecutors to prove their case. Attorney Novak is a respected Tempe DUI defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of DUI offenses, including first-time DUI arrests. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to meet with Attorney Novak and discuss your case, call 480-413-1499 today.

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