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Police Power in DUI Arrests Tested Before TN Supreme Court

Three Tennessee courts have already agreed that a suspect shouldn't have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2009. Now, the state Supreme Court will have a chance to weigh in.

The high court recently agreed to hear arguments over whether police acted within the scope of their authority when they arrested the suspect in question, even though he had passed six field sobriety tests. The court's eventual decision could provide some clear guidance on how far police can depend on field sobriety tests when little or no other evidence of drunk driving is present.

In the case in question, the man's attorney successfully argued before a Sevier County judge after his arrest that police had the right to stop his client when he drove on the wrong side of the road. He acknowledged they also did nothing wrong by asking him to undergo the field sobriety tests. But, he says they went over the line when, after he had passed all six tests administered, they arrested him and took a blood-alcohol test.

After noting that he couldn't have done any better himself, sober, the judge threw out the blood-alcohol test results, even though they showed the man was legally over the limit. He then dismissed the charges. He said even the stop for wrong-way driving wasn't sufficient because there was road construction in the area and other drivers, confused by it, had done the same thing.

The same argument the attorney for the defendant has used before previous appeals courts are likely to be used again. He says the state and police case amounts to saying that field sobriety tests are valid in assessing if a person is possibly impaired, but that they shouldn't be bound by the results if a person passes them.

Acknowledging that authorities have an obligation to enforce the law, it must be remembered that the right to due process and the assumption of innocence of the individual is a matter of constitutional primacy.

Source: NWTN Today, "Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear DUI test case," Sheila Burke, AP, March 26, 2103