Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Mandatory In Maryland

Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Mandatory In The State of Maryland And The Police Must Have Reasonable Articulable Suspicion That The Driver Is Under The Influence Of Alcohol

Let’s assume that a police officer has reasonable suspicion to stop you while driving a vehicle in the State of Maryland. Let’s further assume that the officer smells an odor of an alcoholic beverage from your breath, and you admit to consuming alcoholic beverages prior to driving your vehicle that day. Is this enough for an officer to conduct field sobriety tests on you? First off, you do not have to consent to field sobriety testing. If an officer asks you to step out of the vehicle during a traffic stop, that is a reasonable lawful request. I would exit the vehicle in a timely, safe and proper manner. However, whether you consent to partake in the field sobriety test is totally up to you. In other words, the officer cannot force you to do so. This brief article focuses on someone who consents or agrees to do field sobriety testing.

How Many Field Sobriety Tests Are There?

There are three (3) recognized field sobriety tests, namely the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk and Turn test and the One (1) Leg Stand test.

About four (4) or five (5) years ago, I went through and passed the same training that most police officers receive concerning these tests. The training focused on the February, 2006 Edition of the United States Department of Transportation publication entitled “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.”

The main case dealing with this issue in the State of Maryland is Blasi v. State, 167 Md. App. 483. This case holds that the conducting of field sobriety tests is constitutionally permissible when an officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Furthermore, this case holds that the administration of field sobriety tests by police officers during a valid traffic stop constitutes a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes, as administration of these tests intrudes into an area of an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, due to the fact that the process of conducting field sobriety tests exposes certain aspects of an individual not otherwise observable by the public, and such information disclosed by these tests may reveal private facts about an individual’s physical or psychological condition.

Blasi involved pretty egregious driving. The State Trooper in that case observed that the vehicle was unable to drive within its lane and that the vehicle’s speed fluctuated about eight (8) to ten (10) miles per hour above and below the posted speed limit of fifty-five (55) miles per hour. The Trooper noted that “almost half” of the vehicle swerved over the solid white line and onto the shoulder of Route 24. Those movements were in conjunction with the vehicle speeding up to ten (10) miles per hour above and then down to ten (10) miles per hour below the posted speed limit. He observed this type of driving over approximately one quarter (1/4) of one (1) mile.

Because there was a passenger in the vehicle, the Trooper asked the driver to step out of the vehicle to determine whether the driver had been drinking. As the Trooper stood an arm’s length away from the driver, he detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from the driver’s breath. He also observed that the driver’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy and that his speech was “absolutely slurred.” In response to the Trooper asking the driver if he had anything to drink, the driver responded “just a few.”

The Court of Special Appeals in this case held that all of the information above amounted to enough reasonable articulable suspicion that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, the conducting of field sobriety tests in that case did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

I recently won a case in the District Court of Maryland for Howard County successfully arguing that the Blasi standard was not satisfied by the police officer. In my case, the basis for the stop was an equipment violation, such as a headlight out or cracked windshield. Therefore, there was no “bad driving,” such as the driving noted above in the Blasi case.  The officer testified that he smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage. However, my client was over the age of twenty-one (21) and had no alcohol restriction on his driver’s license. It is legal to drink and drive in the State of Maryland, but you cannot do so while under the influence of alcohol or impaired by alcohol. This assumes that you are over twenty-one (21) years of age and do not have an alcohol restriction on your license. In my case, the officer asked my client to step out of the vehicle to conduct field sobriety testing. At this point in the trial, my Motion to Suppress was argued, considered by the Court, and granted. This meant that the Prosecutor was precluded from having the officer testify any further concerning the facts and circumstances of the case. My Motion for Judgment of Acquittal was soon thereafter granted. This matter has subsequently been expunged from my client’s record.

At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake (SZL), we will obtain the police report in your case, meticulously review it with you, and try to develop the strongest defense possible for your case. Please keep our twenty-four (24) hour telephone number of (410) 927-5137 handy in case you find yourself in a difficult situation and need to speak to an attorney immediately.