Recently the Whidbey News Times reported on an individual arrested for DUI on Whidbey. Apparently it has been his fifth DUI charge thereby making him a habitual offender and potentially culpable for a felony DUI. The officer clocked the individual at 70mph in a 55mph zone. Thereafter the officer pursued the suspect and pulled him over after he crossed the centerline. Thereafter the suspect “failed” the field sobriety tests and purportedly had a blood alcohol level of .114 and .119.
Unlawful Police Stop
The Fourth Amendment of the federal constitution and Art. I §7 of the Washington constitution provide individuals with protection from being stopped by an officer without cause. In Washington, case law holds that the mere crossing over a line once, without more, is insufficient cause to allow an officer to pull one over.
Here, in this case, the individual driving the vehicle was stopped after he merely crossed over the center line. But for speeding, it could be argued that he was subject to an unlawful stop.
What is so big about an unlawful stop? In the US when one is subject to an unlawful seizure–the exclusionary rule and the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” apply. These doctrines provide that if an individual is illegally stopped by an officer, all evidence thereafter gathered is “poisonous” and inadmissible.
The exclusionary rule and fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine are prophylactic rules intended to protect our constitutional rights. These rules provide an incentive for law enforcement to comply with the constitution–if there were no consequences for a police violation of the constitution, then the rule would be virtually non-existent…and so would our rights.
Field Sobriety Test
As mentioned above, field sobriety tests are only as good as the science behind them. One common misconception is that field sobriety tests are used to measure impairment. This is not true. Field sobriety test scoring is only correlative of Blood/Breath Alcohol Content. That is, the field sobriety test does not measure impairment–it is only meant to estimate what a person’s blood alcohol level MAY be. In addition to this, there are major problems with field sobriety tests.
As mentioned above, the field sobriety test is only as good as the science behind it. The test may be given in a way that is not scientific. The test means nothing if it is not conducted in a manner strictly consistent with scientific principles. Furthermore, human error is always a factor–the field sobriety test will not be good evidence of one’s blood alcohol level if (1) the officer scores the test wrong and in a manner that is not consistent with the science, and (2) if the officer administers the test wrong in a way that deviates from the proper way to administer the test.
The factors above may lead to the field sobriety test being deemed inadmissible in court. Furthermore, the accuracy of the tests can always be undermined at trial.
Blood-Alcohol Level–Don’t Listen to a Machine
Machines don’t always tell the truth–especially machines that measure blood alcohol content. You see, the machines police use to measure blood alcohol content merely provide an approximation–there is a standard deviation/margin of error. The margin of error may show that a driver was in fact not over the limit while driving. Furthermore the machine used may be old, may have not received the proper maintenance, or the officer administering the test may have not adhered to the proper procedures while administering the test.
This may lead to the test being rendered inadmissible in court or may cast doubt on its accuracy.
Here, the individual in the Times article purported had a blood alcohol level of .114 or .119. It is possible these readings are inaccurate. It is possible this individual is in fact innocent.
The Washington State Criminal Defense Attorneys at Platt & Buescher have been providing legal representation for citizens accused of DUI on Whidbey Island since 1990.