In a recent driving under the influence (DUI) case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was involved in a single car accident but was not hurt. The police officer arrived at the scene and observed empty beer cans in the defendant’s vehicle. The police officer then made all of the routine observations police officers normally make in DUI cases- glassy and bloodshot eyes, strong odor of alcohol and slurred speech. The defendant then submitted to the field sobriety exercises, and the police officer determined that he failed and there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for DUI.
At the police station, the defendant submitted to a breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer results came back well under the legal limit of 0.08. The police officer, who apparently had already made up his mind that the defendant was drunk, was not satisfied with these results. He then asked the defendant to submit to a urine test to test for drugs in his system. However, there was no evidence that the defendant had used any drugs- no statements from the defendant, no drugs found at the scene and no drug paraphernalia. The police officer was just relying on his assumption that the defendant was somehow impaired.
The criminal defense lawyer ultimately got the DUI case dropped. The Florida implied consent law allows the police officer to obtain a breathalyzer test if there is evidence that the defendant may be impaired from alcohol. Of course the evidence in this case was the same redundant observations the police check on the DUI arrest report in just about every DUI case. However, that is usually enough for the court to find probable cause to move forward with the breathalyzer test. But once the the defendant produced a low reading on the breathalyzer test, there was no legal basis to request a urine test or any other test to see if the defendant had used any drugs. There was no evidence of drug use to allow the police officer to move forward with a drug test.
This case does a good job of illustrating the police officer’s mindset during a DUI stop. In many cases, the police officer quickly decides that the driver is drunk. At that point, it is not a matter of being objective and evaluating the evidence in an unbiased fashion; it is a matter of collecting evidence to support the conclusion he has already made, which is to arrest the driver fro DUI. This is called confirmation bias. This is also one reason why the field sobriety tests are very dangerous for a driver to take, particularly if the police officer does not have a video camera in his vehicle to record the test. These field sobriety tests are completely subjective, meaning you fail if the police officer says you fail. If the sole judge of the field sobriety tests already thinks you are impaired from alcohol, you may not have much of a chance for a fair test. In that scenario, there is a good chance the police officer’s opinion and report of your performance on the field sobriety tests will differ a lot from yours.