Florida Court Discusses Admissibility of Breathalyzer Test Results

The majority of DUI arrests arise out of traffic stops. While the police are permitted to stop motorists they suspect are driving while intoxicated and ask them to submit to breathalyzer tests, there are limits to their authority. For example, as explained in a recent Florida case, if they instigate traffic stops outside of their jurisdiction, any evidence garnered during the stop may be inadmissible. If the state accused you of committing a DUI crime, it is wise to talk to a Clearwater DUI defense lawyer about your potential defenses.

The Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that an officer stopped the defendant due to suspicion of drunk driving. During the stop, the defendant admitted to consuming alcohol, had glassy eyes, and smelled of alcohol. He submitted to field sobriety tests, after which he was arrested for DUI. He was transported to a police station in another town, where he was administered a breath test. The results of the breath test showed that his blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit.

Allegedly, the state formally charged the defendant with DUI. He filed a motion in which he asked the court to suppress the results of the breath test on the basis that the arresting officer was outside the city limits of his jurisdiction at the time he asked the defendant to submit to the breath test. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, suppressing the breath test results. The state appealed.

Admissibility of Breathalyzer Tests Administered Outside of an Officer’s Jurisdiction

The trial court ruling was reversed. The court explained that, as a general rule, police officers can only exercise their law enforcement powers when they are within the territorial limits of their municipality. As such, the narrow issue before the court in the subject case was whether the arresting officer had the authority to request the defendant to submit to a breath test as part of an ongoing investigation if the request arose after the officer left his jurisdiction.

The court elaborated that officers, like private citizens, have the authority to make arrests if they observe a person commit a felony or breach the peace, even if they are not in their jurisdiction. It noted, though, that the issue at hand was not whether the officer had the right to arrest the defendant but whether he used the color of his office to obtain evidence that a private individual could not have obtained.

Under the color of law doctrine, an officer outside of their jurisdiction cannot use the power of their office to gain access to evidence or observe unlawful activity unless their investigation begins within their city limits.  In the subject case, the court ultimately held that the ongoing investigation exception to the color of office doctrine applied. Thus, it reversed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Assertive Clearwater Attorney

The prosecution often relies on breathalyzer test results to obtain DUI convictions, but if a test was conducted improperly, the results should not be admissible. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is smart to meet with an attorney to discuss your rights. The assertive Clearwater criminal defense attorneys of Hanlon Law can examine the facts of your case and formulate arguments designed to help you seek a successful outcome. You can contact Hanlon Law through the online form or by calling 727-897-5413 to set up a meeting.

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