An Ohio Appeals Court has held that a speeding stop late at night can permit an officer to ask the driver to step out of the car for field sobriety tests.
The case is State v. Mossman, 2014-Ohio-2620.
Trooper Robert C. Bradley, Jr observed the defendant at approximately 2:15 a.m. driving 59 miles per hour in a 35-miles-per-hour zone. The trooper stopped the defendant on the side of a freeway.
Upon approaching the defendant, the trooper smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage. The Defendant told the trooper that she had had “some” to drink about thirty minutes ago. The trooper asked the defendant to perform field sobriety tests, including horizontal and vertical gaze nystagmus examinations, a one-leg stand test, and a walk-and-turn test. He also asked appellee to recite the alphabet, starting with B and ending at T. The trooper then arrested the defendant for drunk driving.
The question before the court was whether the the Trooper had probable cause to detain the Defendant for administration of the field sobriety tests. This issue arose because the Trooper observed no signs of impaired driving. Speeding is not an indicator of impaired driving.
In Ohio, an officer can legally detain a driver to administer field sobriety tests if there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. In this case, the court concluded that the Trooper did, in fact, have reasonable suspicion. The court said:
[The defendant] was driving well in excess of the 35- miles- per-hour limit, the trooper stopped her at approximately 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the trooper discerned an odor of alcohol in the vehicle, and [the driver] acknowledged having been drinking.
The take away: a simple traffic violation, combined with an odor of alcohol and an admission that the driver has been drinking is enough to permit an officer to ask a driver to step out of the vehicle to performs field sobriety tests.
This case illustrates that the law on drunk driving in Ohio is constantly in flux, and each case turns on its individual facts.