Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York DWI case involving a defendant’s challenge to the evidence used to convict him at trial. Specifically, the defendant argued that the police officer violated his constitutional rights when the officer approached his car, knocked on the window, demanded the defendant exit the vehicle, and then conduct field sobriety tests.
After reviewing each of the defendant’s contentions, the appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol just after midnight when he encountered a running pickup truck parked on the shoulder, with its lights on. The officer pulled behind the truck and waited for five minutes before calling in a possible disabled vehicle. The officer then approached the truck, finding the defendant asleep in the driver’s seat.
The officer knocked on the window for a few minutes before the defendant woke up. Once he awoke, it took the defendant a few moments to become alert, at which point the officer asked for his license and registration. The defendant complied. However, the officer noticed that the defendant seemed intoxicated due to his watery eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol coming from the car.
At this point, the officer asked the defendant out of the car. The defendant complied after several requests, but was having difficulty standing. The officer patted the defendant down, finding a vape pen with cannabis oil inside. The defendant claimed he smoked it three hours earlier, but hadn’t taken any other drugs.
The officer then administered field sobriety tests which, according to the officer, the defendant failed. The defendant was then arrested for DWI, at which point he refused any further chemical testing.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the traffic stop. Most notably, the officer’s observations during the encounter. The defendant argued that the officer’s actions strayed from a constitutionally permissible investigation at three points.
- When he approached the defendant’s parked vehicle;
- When he demanded the defendant exit the vehicle; and
- When he patted the defendant down.
The court reviewed each of the defendant’s arguments, finding they were all without merit. The court explained that an officer needs only an “objective, credible reason, not necessarily indicative of criminality” to approach a car. Here, the officer was under the impression the vehicle was disabled, allowing the approach.
Next, the court held that the officer’s request for the defendant to exit the vehicle was supported by the fact that the defendant was asleep and did not immediately wake up, as well as that the defendant exhibited signs of intoxication when he finally came to.
Finally, the court held that, at the point, the officer patted the defendant down, there was enough evidence to arrest him for DWI. Thus, the court characterized the pat-down as a search incident to an arrest, which is constitutionally allowed.
Have You Been Charged with a New York DWI?
If you are facing New York DWI charges, do not give up hope. While this case did not go the defendant’s way, it is a good example of how court’s conduct a step-by-step analysis of police officer’s actions. Frequently, officers overstep their authority, violating motorists’ rights. When this happens, any evidence obtained through the stop may be precluded from trial. At the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel, we aggressively represent clients facing New York DWI offenses. We have extensive experience handling all types of DWI cases, including those involving DWI accidents and DWI refusals. To learn more, call (914) 428-7386, or contact us through our online form.