According to a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision, Kansas v. Edgar, field sobriety tests are only used to gather evidence to convict a driver of DUI, and not to exonerate him or her of the DUI charge.
This recent decision came down in the case of driver who was stopped at a license roadblock in 2007. The driver, who had a suspended license at the time, was asked to execute three field sobriety tests after the police officer noticed a light smell of alcohol coming from the vehicle.
After passing the first two tests, an HGN or horizontal gaze nystagmus test and a one-leg stand, the officer deemed that he “did fine” on his third test, a walk and turn. It was at this point the officer attested that he would not have arrested the driver, but he then decided to perform a preliminary breath test on the driver. The driver was told that he had no choice but to submit to this test, and that he had no right to call an attorney. The driver failed the breath test and was charged with DUI.
The driver appealed this decision, asserting that there should have been no reasonable suspicion to conduct a breath test if he was able to pass the three sobriety tests. The district court ruled, however, that initial suspicion was enough reason to run several tests. Although the high court somewhat sided with the driver, stating that sobriety tests must be seen as a factor in determining whether or not there is reasonable suspicion. The court thus questioned whether passing all sobriety tests should eliminate suspicion completely.
The driver also appealed the preliminary breath test because he was falsely told by the police officer that he could not refuse the screening. Refusal to undergo the breath test, under Kansas law, is considered a traffic infraction. The court states that consent to the search must be voluntary. To the state’s high court, it did not matter that an implied consent statute covered the handheld device.
That judge ruled that although the driver implied consent to the preliminary breath test, the consent could have been withdrawn. This withdrawal was made unlikely, however, since the driver was misinformed by the police officer, thus contradicting the existing statute. The judge also ruled that the law enforcement officer’s misstatement rendered the test results involuntary, thus invalidating the DUI arrest and the results of the blood-alcohol test.