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Illinois Appeals Court Holds Bloodshot Eyes Insufficient to Establish Probable Cause for DUI

The Illinois Court of Appeals for the Third District recently held that suspicion aroused by bloodshot eyes, unless confirmed by another factor (such as poor driving, stumbling, or an inability to communicate), does not rise to the level of probable cause that a DUI was committed.

At the hearing on the defendant’s petition to rescind the summary suspension of his driver’s license, Officer Lopez testified that on the morning of the December 2014 incident, he observed defendant Anthony Day driving safely. Lopez pulled Day over because excessive noises were emanating from his exhaust system.

Day gave Lopez his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Nothing about the defendant’s actions indicated to Lopez that the defendant might be under the influence of alcohol. Lopez did, however, detect a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the defendant.

Lopez instructed Day to exit the vehicle. As Day walked to Lopez’s squad car, he briefly lost his balance. Lopez instructed the defendant to recite the alphabet from the letter C to the letter R, but the defendant refused. Lopez then instructed the defendant to count backward from 69 to 44. The defendant complied and accurately performed the task, although he did pause twice. Lopez testified that while the defendant was counting, he noticed that the defendant was slurring the numbers. He also noticed that the defendant’s eyes were “glassy [and] watery.” Lopez asked Day if he had consumed any alcohol. Day told Lopez that he began drinking beer at approximately 12:30 a.m. and stopped at approximately 3 a.m., a half hour before.

Lopez then administered a number of field sobriety tests. Lopez admitted, however, that it was raining at the time, and the tests should not have been administered on wet pavement. Lopez instructed the defendant to hold one foot off the ground while counting to 30.  Lopez testified that the defendant swayed during the test but did not move his arms.

Lopez asked Day to perform the walk-and-turn test on a straight crack in the roadway. Lopez testified that the defendant executed an “improper turn” at the midpoint of the test. The defendant did not stumble or lose his balance.

Lopez testified that he next administered the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which revealed that Day had consumed alcohol. That result, combined with the results of the other field sobriety tests, prompted Lopez to arrest the defendant for DUI.

Following the hearing, the defense filed a motion to quash the arrest and suppress evidence because Lopez lacked probable cause to believe Day had committed the offense of DUI. The trial court granted the motion.

In its interlocutory appeal, the State argued that Lopez had probable cause to arrest the defendant for DUI and that the trial court erred in quashing the arrest and suppressing the evidence. The appeals court affirmed the lower court, reasoning that “the State’s purported laundry list of factors breaks down.”

Regarding the field sobriety tests, the court reasoned that Lopez administered the tests improperly by requesting the defendant to perform them on a wet surface while it was raining. This improper administration alone, the court held, significantly impaired the probative weight that can be given to those tests. And despite the weather conditions, Day’s performance on the tests was reasonable. He stood on one foot for 30 seconds without using his arms for balance, and he walked a straight line for 18 steps without stepping off the line. These results would not lead a reasonably cautious person to believe that the defendant was impaired by alcohol.

The court next addressed the other factors cited by the state — Day’s admission to drinking earlier in the night, the odor of alcohol emanating from his mouth, his bloodshot and glassy eyes, and his slurred speech. The court first noted that in claiming Day’s speech was slurred, the court did not reference the defendant’s own testimony. Lopez testified that the defendant’s speech was normal while he sat in the vehicle, and Lopez only noticed the slur when the defendant counted down numbers. Day, however, testified that he enunciated the numbers perfectly during that exercise. Determining whether the defendant’s speech was slurred therefore turned on the question of credibility, and the court inferred from the trial court’s ruling that it resolved that question in Day’s favor.

The court next considered Day’s alleged bloodshot and glassy eyes and admitted alcohol consumption. The consumption of alcohol—here established both by the defendant’s own admission as well as the odor of an alcoholic beverage—was relevant to the question of impairment by alcohol. The court explained that according to Illinois precedent, however, the consumption of alcoholic beverages, even considered in conjunction with bloodshot or glassy eyes, may not alone give rise to probable cause.

While the appeals court admitted that the number of alcoholic beverages a driver admits to having consumed may arouse suspicions of probable cause, it concluded that while Day testified at the hearing as to how much he consumed, there was no evidence presented that he ever provided details of his alcohol consumption to Lopez.

The court concluded that suspicions of impairment that may have been raised by Day’s admitted consumption of alcohol and bloodshot and glassy eyes were not corroborated in any significant way by any other factors. By all accounts, Day’s driving on the night in question had been nothing short of perfect. He had not been involved in any sort of accident. He was able to communicate clearly and effectively with Lopez. The field sobriety tests, improperly administered on a wet surface while it was raining, gave no indication that the defendant was suffering from any sort of physical impairment. While Lopez testified that the defendant briefly lost his balance in walking from his vehicle, the defendant denied this accusation.

The court admitted that the facts that Day consumed alcohol and had glassy and bloodshot eyes were certainly probative of impairment. So too, the court admitted, was the defendant’s failure to perfectly follow test instructions. The appeals court agreed with the lower court, however, that those factors were insufficient to lead a reasonably cautious person to believe that the defendant had committed the crime of DUI. Any suspicions aroused by bloodshot and glassy eyes, unless confirmed by some other factor, such as poor driving, stumbling, falling, or an inability to communicate clearly, do not rise to the level of probable cause.

Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court’s order quashing the defendant’s arrest and suppressing all of the evidence obtained past that point.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

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Illinois Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, September 1, 2016.

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