Michigan Field Sobriety Test Case Law


There are numerous state and federal cases, which relate to the admissibility of field sobriety test results and the procedures that must be followed by officers in standardized testing cases. Grabel & Associates has worked for over a decade in the field of DUI defense and in addition to providing you with a comprehensive understanding of the laws and precedents that may relate to your unique drunk driving case, we can share knowledge gained from the hundreds of past Michigan DUI cases we have worked in, and our DUI attorneys guide you through the steps we know will effectively assist you in obtaining the best available case result.

Margin of Error in Field Sobriety Tests in Michigan

Field sobriety tests are intended to be used to establish probable cause for further testing while in the field, and are not designed to stand alone as evidence for or against a person’s alleged intoxication while operating a motor vehicle. Though the NHTSA claims that the three main standardized field tests can accurately predict whether or not a person is intoxicated up to 8 out of 10 times, this leaves a substantial margin of error and a risk of wrongful conviction which cannot be ignored. Throughout Michigan, however, these sobriety tests are used as a predictor of a person’s intoxication, and relied upon in drunk driving cases as a key element of the police officer’s claims. When this is the case, it can be helpful to look at certain procedural requirements and the cases which hold officers to a particular standard during field sobriety testing, so that you can be sure of the rights you have as a suspect in a DUI case and utilize these rights to defend yourself throughout the criminal justice process.

What to Expect From a Field Sobriety Test

When a police officer pulls a person over for a traffic violation such as failing to recognize a stop sign or red light or swerving out of his or her lane, Florida v. Royer establishes that the stop should be temporary and should not last any longer than is necessary to complete the purpose of the stop. If you have been pulled over for a traffic violation and after investigating the violation, the officer continues to investigate further, perhaps looking for evidence of intoxicated driving, a second stop with distinct evidence supporting reasonable suspicion may be required. In Ferris v. State, this idea is supported, and the decision even goes as far as to say that in order to request that a driver get out of the vehicle, additional justification is required. This idea is supported in other DUI/OWI cases, including:

Charity v. State, which supports that police are to exercise investigative prerogative with restraint and moderation.

Green v. State, a case involving a drug possession charge, which arose from a routine traffic stop.

Pennsylvania v. Mimms, in which a concealed weapons charge resulted after a driver was pulled over for driving with an expired license plate.

In People v. Rizzo, the issue of removing a person from a vehicle in order to complete field sobriety tests was addressed. While the prosecution claimed that police could request that the suspect step out of the car (based on Pennsylvania v. Mimms), the lack of a safety reason for requesting so negated the right. It was still determined, however, that the smell of alcohol alone was enough to reasonably suspect impaired driving and require a person to exit a vehicle and perform standardized field sobriety tests.

When can an Officer Request a Field Sobriety Tests?

Though some cases state that a person should be required to perform field sobriety tests even if they were pulled over for a reason other than suspected intoxicated driving, others have determined police did not have enough of a reason to suspect a person was under the influence. City of Hutchison v. Davenport involved a defendant who had been found guilty of DUI in municipal court, though after appeal certain evidence was effectively suppressed. In this case, Davenport had went to the police station to check on his daughter who had been picked up, and while there an officer detected alcohol on his breath and instructed him not to drive. The officer then watched him leave in his truck, and eventually called in a tip that he may be intoxicated. Davenport committed no traffic infractions, and nothing but the odor the officer allegedly smelled was observed to suggest that he was intoxicated. It was determined that reasonable suspicion was not evident.

Essentially, if an officer wants to stop you he must observe you breaking a traffic law or committing another act, which establishes probable cause to pull you over for that infraction. In order to have you perform field sobriety tests, additional cause must be established, such as the smell of alcohol, slurring of words, difficulty handing over license and registration, or another identifiable clue that a person may be intoxicated.

If you believe that an officer pulled you over or requested that you leave your vehicle without probable cause, contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer in Michigan right away. Grabel & Associates is available 24/7 by phone, at 1-800-342-7896, or online, and will begin working on your case immediately.