Field Sobriety Tests in Tennessee Go Under the Microscope

DWI Saturation Patrol in Fairfax County by Flick User fairfaxcounty Licensed Under Creative CommonsA recent case working its way through the court system in Tennessee got some national attention given the important impact the decision might have. The highest court in Tennessee has agreed to hear a case, State of Tennessee v. David Dwayne Bell, concerning the weight that should be given to the performance on field sobriety tests by a driver, especially those that indicate sobriety.

The roots of the important decision go back to 2009 when David Bell was arrested for drunk driving in East Tennessee despite having passed a battery of field sobriety tests with flying colors.

Bell was spotted late one night driving on the wrong side of the road, something he said he did because of nearby road construction which caused him to miss his turn. The officer pulled Bell over and administered a series of six standard field sobriety tests. Bell passed each one. Despite this, Bell’s admission that he had indeed consumed a beer that evening was enough to have the officer arrest him and take him to have a blood test done to officially determine his BAC. The test results showed that Bell was indeed legally intoxicated, with a BAC of 0.15. The issue that has been successfully raised by Bell was whether the officer had the necessary probable cause to place Bell under arrest in the first place.

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