Before an officer can request that a driver to submit to field sobriety tests, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that the individual is driving under the influence. If reasonable suspicion exists, the officer can detain briefly detain the driver long enough to conduct a DUI investigation. And, the purpose of a DUI investigation is to confirm whether there is probable cause for the DUI arrest.
Without reasonable suspicion the DUI arrest may be illegal.
So what constitutes reasonable suspicion anyway?
Is the smell of alcohol alone enough? Probably not. Most courts require a combination of several factors. In State v. Taylor, the Florida supreme court provided an example of what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” sufficient to conduct a DUI investigation – speeding, slurred speech, watery bloodshot eyes and a strong odor of alcohol:
When [the defendant] exited his car, he staggered and exhibited slurred speech, watery, bloodshot eyes, and a strong odor of alcohol. This, combined with a high rate of speed on the highway, was more than enough to provide [the officer] with reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed, i.e., DUI. The officer was entitled under section 901.151 to conduct a reasonable inquiry to confirm or deny that probable cause existed to make an arrest. [The officer’s] request that [the defendant] perform field sobriety tests was reasonable under the circumstances and did not violate any Fourth Amendment rights.
Other courts have found that a traffic violation combined with bloodshot eyes and alcohol – even without slurred speech – is enough to provide reasonable suspicion. An observation of a flushed face – bad news for those with sunburns or rosacea – also counts toward reasonable suspicion.
A driver’s admission to drinking any alcohol is almost certainly going to contribute heavily to reasonable suspicion.
The result? Almost all police reports read like a template and recount these basic three factors: bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and – pick one – flushed face or slurred speech. It takes a skilled attorney to investigate the officer’s statements and litigate the basis for their reasonable suspicion. Without reasonable suspicion, an officer can not legally request the field sobriety tests.