Articles Posted in Field Sobriety Tests

When a police officer pulls someone over for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer may perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) on the driver before administering a breath or blood test. Officers use field sobriety tests to determine, in their opinion, whether someone is intoxicated. If the officer believes that a driver is impaired, they will then likely conduct a blood or breath test. However, blood and breath tests require that the officer have probable cause to believe that the motorist is intoxicated. Thus, FSTs are a tool police officers use to develop probable cause. There are three common types of Arizona field sobriety tests, described below:

The One-Legged Stand Test: In this FST, an officer will instruct a driver to stand up straight while raising one foot about six inches off the ground. After a few seconds, the officer will then tell the motorist to place their foot back on the ground. The officer is looking for whether the driver loses their balance, uses their arms to keep themselves up, or fluctuates the height of their raised foot.

The Walk-and-Turn Test: For this FST, the officer asks the driver to take nine steps forward, heel-to-toe, before turning around and coming back the same way. This FST tests a motorist’s ability to follow instructions, as well as their balance. Aside from signs of imbalance, cues of intoxication include when drivers take the incorrect number of steps, are unable to negotiate the turn, or otherwise fail to follow the instructions.

In a recent decision from an Arizona appeals court, the court upheld a DUI conviction for an individual after the arresting officer’s death. The defendant was convicted of two counts of aggravated driving under the influence, two counts of aggravated driving with an illegal drug in his body, and possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to four months in prison and probation. The defendant argued that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the arresting officer could not testify against him after the officer’s death.

According to the court’s opinion, before the defendant was arrested, two sheriff’s officers, Deputy Davis and Deputy Gil, responded to a 911 call in Tucson and found the defendant in a stopped vehicle in the middle of the road, with the engine still running. The defendant was sleeping in the driver’s seat. Deputy Davis administered field sobriety tests, arrested the defendant, and obtained a telephonic search warrant to draw his blood. Testing showed that marijuana and oxycodone were present in the defendant’s blood.

Deputy Davis died before the defendant’s case went to trial, and Deputy Gil was the only officer to testify at the trial. While Deputy Gil was being questioned at trial, the prosecution asked her how she would administer the field sobriety tests (FSTs). Because Deputy Davis had administered the tests in this case, the defendant objected as to the relevance of Gil’s administration of FSTs. The court allowed her to demonstrate the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand FSTs despite the objection.

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are protected from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. This includes requiring a driver to take a blood or breath test. Over the years, courts have described what constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure. In general, police must have a search warrant in order to show that a search is reasonable. However, police can conduct a search under certain limited circumstances without a warrant.

Clearly, police officers are not able to obtain a warrant when they witness someone commit a crime. Therefore, courts have determined that if a police officer has probable cause to believe that someone has broken the law, the officer can stop and arrest them.

Sometimes, however, police officers have a belief that a crime has been committed, but cannot be sure. In these situations, a police officer can stop a citizen, ask them questions, and conduct an investigation so long as they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. In order to justify this type of stop, an officer must be able to point to articulable facts supporting the officer’s belief that the person stopped was involved in criminal activity.

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There is currently a nationwide discussion about the legality of marijuana. While the federal government continues to debate whether or not marijuana is legal, the state of Arizona has very strict laws regarding purchase, possession, and use of the substance. Only people with medical marijuana card can obtain small amounts of marijuana from approved dispensaries.

While some people may legally obtain and use marijuana in the state, Arizona still does not have a proper means of testing for pot in a driver’s system. The entire country is struggling with this issue. Marijuana DUI law is still evolving given the country’s changing attitudes toward marijuana. With that in mind, our legal office serving the Phoenix, AZ area would like to consider some of the current issues related to field sobriety tests to detect marijuana use.

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