Last week a New Jersey appeals court ruled that a police offer need only have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, rather than ‘probable cause,’ to initiate a field sobriety test. The case arose after a driver was initially pulled over simply because his muffler was loud and his windows were tinted. Once the driver was pulled over the officer alleged that he smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath and asked him about it. The driver indicated that he had drunk a beer earlier in the evening. But the officer claims that the driver’s breath smelled more like hard liquor than beer.

The officer then made the driver submit to a field sobriety test. The driver was subsequently charged with drunk driving. At trial, the driver requested that the evidence from the field sobriety test be disallowed. His basic argument was that the police officer did not have probable cause to conduct the field sobriety test. The court disagreed and allowed the evidence of the field sobriety test. Now a New Jersey appeals court had upheld that decision.

The Superior Court judge ruled that based that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that the driver was under the influence of alcohol based on a handful of factors. These include the apparent nervousness of the driver, the time and location of the traffic stop, the odor, and the driver’s admission of consuming at least some alcohol. The driver argued that a reasonable suspicion was not sufficient to administer a field sobriety test, which he equated to an arrest.

The appeals court said that they were unable to find any New Jersey case law that indicated an officer was required to have more than a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a driver was under the influence.

Source: Thomson Reuters News and Insight, “No probable cause needed for sobriety test: N.J. appeals court,” Jennifer Golson, Dec. 23, 2011