Case could determine who police arrest for drunken driving - WSMV Channel 4

Case could determine who police arrest for drunken driving

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to take a case that could determine if police can arrest people suspected of driving drunk even after they have passed field sobriety tests.

The case involves a 2009 DUI charge in Sevier County. It was dismissed because the driver passed a series of field sobriety tests. A court found police had no other evidence to show that he was guilty of anything other than a traffic violation.

Three Tennessee courts have already found police lacked probable cause to arrest the driver and order a blood-alcohol test. It later showed he was drunk.

Robert Vaughn, a Nashville criminal defense attorney, has defended several DUI cases over the past three decades. He said it's time the high court takes up the issue of probable cause when it comes to whether an officer can arrest a person who passed field sobriety tests.

"There have been questions over the past number of years, law enforcement having the opportunity on a subjective basis to make these determinations," Vaughn said. "Sometimes there's video, sometimes there's not."

The Tennessee attorney general's office requested that the state's high court hear the case. Its decision could determine how to factor in field sobriety tests when there's little or no other evidence of someone driving drunk.

"At the end of the day, that stop and that determination was completely, solely and only subjective on the part of the officer," Vaughn said.

There's a couple of different thoughts on what a supreme court ruling could mean. Some say it could help get more dangerous drivers off the roads, while others are concerned it would give officers too much power.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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