Tennessee Supreme Court Agrees to Hear DUI Field-Sobriety Test Case

March 28, 2013

1066864_police_cruiser.jpgDriving under the influence in Nashville, as in cities across the country, is a serious offense. One of the primary reasons is that innocent victims of DUI accidents often suffer serious injuries, including burns, broken bones and head trauma; many die. Law enforcement makes it a priority to police the roads and highways to prevent DUI accidents from occurring. If you or someone you know has been the victim of an alcohol-related injury, you may be entitled to recover damages. You are encouraged to contact an experienced Nashville attorney who can help to protect your rights.

The manner in which law enforcement determines whether a suspected drunk driver is in fact driving under the influence has become the subject of some controversy in Tennessee. The highest court in the state recently agreed to hear a case involving a suspected drunk driver who was arrested for DUI despite having passed a myriad of field sobriety tests. Dwayne Bell was pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road, a traffic infraction in its own right. At that point, the police officer asked Bell to perform field sobriety tests. He agreed and passed six separate tests. Nevertheless, the officer still believed that Bell was drunk and arrested him. Later, he was subjected to a blood test, which revealed that Bell's blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, almost twice the legal limit.

Bell moved to suppress the blood-alcohol evidence and claimed that he was arrested without probable cause, as he successfully performed the field sobriety tests. The two lower courts agreed that the officer had no probable cause on which to arrest Bell. The DUI charges were dismissed. Among other things, the appellate court pointed out that the state is not obligated to conduct field sobriety tests before arresting someone for driving under the influence. But, the court noted, if the state decides to administer the tests, it may not choose to disregard the results if the driver performs them successfully. The court also pointed out that although the driver in this case was operating his vehicle on the wrong side of the road at the time he was pulled over, there was construction in the particular area, which could have accounted for the driving infraction.

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office requested that the Supreme Court hear the case. Hopefully, the ultimate decision will provide guidance to law enforcement as to the meaning of field sobriety tests in the face of little or no other evidence of drunk driving. It is no surprise that advocates for stricter DUI laws are concerned about the impact of this decision, especially families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a drunk driver. Others see the merit in protecting an individual's rights not to be arrested without probable cause.

There is a delicate balancing act that must take place, weighing the prevention of alcohol-related accidents and injuries with an individual's rights. Despite all of this, drunk-driving accidents do happen, and all too often innocent victims are injured or even killed.

If you have questions about potential claims arising from an alcohol-related accident in Tennessee, contact us for a free consultation at the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC at (615) 515-7774, or use our online form. We serve clients throughout Tennessee.

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