A recent court ruling out of Kansas will likely lead to important changes in the way drunk driving cases are handled in the state. For years, law enforcement agencies have conducted a series of three field sobriety tests during traffic stops involving suspected drunk drivers. The failure of any one of the three tests could serve as justification for administering a breathalyzer test and for potentially making an arrest. Thanks to the Kansas Supreme Court, that will no longer be the case.
The case at issue began when William Molitor was pulled over for drunk driving by a Sedgwick County police officer. Molitor was given three field sobriety tests, of which he failed one. The officer at the scene decided that the failure of the one field sobriety test amounted to sufficient probable cause to administer a breathalyzer, which Molitor failed and was then arrested.
According to the Kansas Supreme Court, sufficient probable cause did not exist in this case. The reason, according to the Court, is because failing only one of three tests is not, by itself, conclusive evidence of drunk driving. Kansas law enforcement officials have, for years, administered three tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test and the one leg stand test.
In this case, Molitor passed both the walk and turn and one leg stand tests, failing the horizontal gaze test. According to the court, this horizontal gaze test, cannot even be admitted into evidence at trial given its proven unreliability in serving as an accurate barometer of intoxication. As a result, simply failing one, already suspect field sobriety test cannot amount to sufficient probable cause justifying further investigative action by police officers.
According to the Court, there must be more evidence before such action is justifiable. A defense expert in Kansas said that the ruling would have important implications across the state, characterizing the decision as relegating the horizontal gaze test to same credibility as a Ouija board or magic 8-ball. Now that the Court has essentially thrown out the use of such a test for drunk driving cases, there could very well be other DUI convictions challenged and overturned in the future.
Though the case’s impact is limited to Kansas, the article notes that law enforcement agencies in many other states continue to administer all three field sobriety tests. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agrees with the Kansas Supreme Court and has said that only two, the walk and turn and the one leg stand test, ought to be admissible in court according to federal standards.
Source: “Kansas Supreme Court changes way DUI’s investigated,” by Chris Arnold, published at KSN.com.