People v. Day, 2016 IL App (3d) 150852 (January). Episode 294 (Duration 10:56)
Field Sobriety Tests Administered On Wet Surface Were Invalid Creating Probable Cause Problems In This DUI Arrest.
Field Sobriety Tests…
This Statutory summary suspension is rescinded after improper SFSTs fail to establish probable cause for DUI arrest.
The officer in this DUI arrest administered the field sobriety tests in an improper fashion by requesting the defendant perform them on a wet surface while it was raining.
This improper administration alone significantly impairs the probative weight that can be given to those tests.
He Passed The SFSTs
Even further, despite the weather conditions, the defendant’s performance on the tests was reasonable, standing on one foot for 30 seconds without using his arms for balance and walking a straight line for 18 steps without stepping off the line.
Trial Judge Ruling
Those results would not lead a reasonably cautious person to believe that the defendant was impaired by alcohol.
The ultimate question is whether the arrest was supported by probable cause.
This cases addresses head on exactly what weight should be given to SFSTs when the NHTSA standards are not exactly followed.
Probable cause to arrest exists when the facts known to the officer at the time of the arrest are sufficient to lead a reasonably cautious person to believe that the arrestee has committed a crime. Such a determination must be based upon the totality of the circumstances.
Probable cause must rise to a level higher than mere suspicion.
It must also rise to a level higher than “reasonable, articulable suspicion,” the lesser standard required to justify an investigatory stop, rather than a full arrest.
The State Pointed To…
The State lists a number of factors that, it argues, would reasonably have led the officer to believe that the defendant was driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Specifically, the State relies heavily on the fact that the defendant “failed to perform both field sobriety tests as instructed.”
The State also points out that the defendant admitted to drinking, “had the strong odor of alcohol on his breath,” had bloodshot eyes, and slurred his speech.
Upon closer examination, however, the State’s purported laundry list of factors breaks down.
Here the officer testified—explicitly and repeatedly—that he did not administer those tests (one-leg stand and walk-and-turn) properly.
He admitted that it was improper to administer those tests on wet pavement and improper to administer them while it was raining.
He admitted that the field sobriety tests should not be administered in even a drizzle.
He even agreed that the improper administration of those tests rendered them “invalid.”
Officer Had Credibility Issues
Notably, the officer initially could not remember the weather on the night in question.
After checking his report, however, the officer agreed that it was raining. Still later, the officer apparently had an independent recollection that it was only drizzling.
The defendant testified that the roadway was wet and slick.
While the officer testified that the defendant briefly lost his balance in walking from his vehicle, the defendant denied this accusation.
The trial court was within its right to settle credibility issues in favor of the defendant.
Clearly, the court gave little weight to the officer’s testimony that defendant as slurring his speech.
The improper administration of the field sobriety tests in this case rendered the “results” of those tests inherently less reliable, and the trial court rightly gave the officer’s observations of those tests less evidentiary weight.
The evidence here affirmatively showed that those tests were not administered correctly.
In terms of a probable cause determination: a reasonably cautious person would give very little, if any, weight to the test results that the person knew to be invalid.
What little probative value the “invalid” and improper testing might have is further eroded when we look to that actual substance underlying the officer’s descriptions.
While the officer and the State broadly described the defendant as having “failed” the tests, the trial court—and this court, in applying de novo review—must look to the actual observations that led to his conclusions.
…But He “Failed” The SFSTs
Such an analysis shows that the defendant’s “failures” on the field sobriety tests in question were technical in nature and few in amount.
Regarding the one-leg stand test, the officer testified that the defendant dropped his foot once while counting to 30 and “swayed” but did not move his arms.
On the walk-and-turn test, the officer testified that the defendant did not place his heel directly to his toe, did not count his steps out loud, and made a “large turn” instead of a small turn.
Indeed, we find that none of the purported “clues” on those tests could indicate to a reasonable person that the defendant was impaired by alcohol.
The defendant stood on one foot for 30 seconds in the cold and rain, without using his arms to keep his balance, and only put his foot down once.
What the officer described as a failure, others might describe as an impressive achievement.
On the walk-and-turn test, the defendant exhibited no signs of physical impairment, such as the loss of balance or coordination. He remained on the line for each of the required 18 steps, and never used his arms for balance.
Each of his apparent shortcomings dealt only with the officer’s directions, and two of those—the placement of his feet and his “large turn”—could have related to the wet and slick conditions in which the defendant was performing the test, the very conditions that the officer testified rendered the tests invalid.
Bloodshot & Glassy Eyes
In the present case, any suspicions of impairment that may have been raised by the defendant’s admitted consumption of alcohol and bloodshot and glassy eyes were not corroborated in any significant way by any other factors.
By all accounts, the defendant’s driving on the night in question had been nothing short of perfect.
He had not been involved in any sort of accident.
He was able to communicate clearly and effectively with the officer.
The field sobriety tests, improperly administered on a wet, slick surface while it was raining, gave no indication that the defendant was suffering from any sort of physical impairment.
The trial court was affirmed.
The fact that the defendant consumed alcohol and had glassy and bloodshot eyes is certainly probative of impairment. To a lesser extent, so too is the defendant’s failure to perfectly follow test instructions.
The reviewing court agreed with the trial court, however, that those factors are not enough to lead a reasonably cautious person to believe that the defendant had committed the crime of DUI. That is, any suspicions aroused by bloodshot and glassy eyes, unless confirmed by some other factor—such as poor driving, stumbling, falling, or an inability to communicate clearly—do not rise to the level of probable cause.
All evidence gathered past that point is suppressed.