In this DWI appeal of an administrative license suspension, probable cause is not necessary for a traffic stop. However, probable cause is needed to arrest a driver for an alcohol-related offense. Furthermore, probable cause to arrest a driver for an alcohol-related offense does not require field sobriety tests. Instead, other indicia of intoxication—like refusal to take a field sobriety test—are sufficient.
In this case, the Director of the Department of Revenue appeals the trial court’s judgment setting aside the suspension of Defendant’s driving privileges pursuant to section 302.505, RSMo. The Director argued the trial court committed legal error by requiring field sobriety tests and evidence of criminal activity before a traffic stop.
In the first point on appeal, the Director challenges the trial court’s conclusion that the Director did not meet its burden to establish probable cause to arrest Defendant because no field sobriety tests were performed. The Director argued this was legal error because field sobriety tests are not required to establish probable cause to arrest for an alcohol-related offense.
In this case, the Officer stated that he detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from Turner and his truck, his eyes were watery, and his speech was slurred. Defendant admitted to drinking alcohol earlier in the night. The Officer testified that he attempted to perform field sobriety tests; however, Defendant refused to perform the tests, telling the deputies, “I can’t,” and “I won’t pass them.”
Defendant was then placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated. Despite this evidence which was deemed credible by the trial court, the trial court found that the Director did not sustain its burden to establish probable cause to arrest Defendant “for an alcohol-related offense, in that: no field sobriety tests performed.”
The Appellate Court’s decision cited other cases that stated that “‘Even in the absence of any field sobriety tests, we have held similar observations by an arresting officer to constitute sufficient evidence to meet the test of probable cause.'” Id. (quoting Terry, 14 S.W.3d at 725). Though field sobriety tests are not required, the refusal to take field sobriety tests constitutes evidence of intoxication in administrative license proceedings.”
The Appellate Court said that settled precedent in Missouri provides that the sufficiency of the legal basis to justify the initial traffic stop is immaterial in an administrative suspension hearing. They pointed to the case of In Riche v. Director of Revenue, 987 S.W.2d 331(Mo. banc 1999). In that case the Supreme Court held: “[N]either section 302.505.1 nor the constitution . . . require that the arresting officer’s initial stop be based upon probable cause. To the extent that [other Missouri cases] impose a probable cause requirement on the initial stop and apply the exclusionary rule in section 302.505 proceedings, they are overruled.”
The Appellate Court ended up reversing the lower court’s judgment holding:
First, the trial court committed legal error by relying on a finding that there was insufficient evidence of criminal activity to support a traffic stop to conclude that the Director had not met its burden to establish probable cause to arrest Turner for an alcohol-related traffic offense.
The opinion handed down pointed to section 302.505. It said that the Director is not required to establish that there was reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop; rather, the Director must establish that there was probable cause to arrest the driver for an alcohol related traffic offense.
Second, the trial court committed legal error by relying on a finding that no field sobriety tests were conducted to conclude that the Director had not met its burden to establish probable cause to arrest Defendant for driving in violation of an alcohol-related traffic offense. Field sobriety tests are not mandatory, the Court held. It added, that the refusal to take field sobriety tests constituted evidence of intoxication in administrative license proceedings.
Third, the evidence presented by the Director, deemed credible by the trial judge, was sufficient to establish that there was probable cause to arrest Defendant for an alcohol related traffic offense. It further stated that his BAC exceeded the legal limit of .08 percent.
The opinion was written by Judge Cynthia L. Martin.