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In Tennessee, Smelling of Alcohol and Admitting to Drinking is Sufficient for Warrantless Arrest

The Tennessee Supreme Court made it clear in a ruling published on Friday that performance on field sobriety tests are only a part of establishing probable cause for a warrantless DUI arrest. The court held, “performance on field sobriety tests is but one of the many factors officers should consider when deciding whether to arrest a motorist for DUI or similar offenses without a warrant.”

What makes this ruling a cause of concern is that following the reasoning of the Tennessee Supreme Court in the instant case, admission of drinking and smell of alcohol is sufficient to establish probable cause for a warrantless arrest, even if the if the suspect passes six field sobriety tests.

In 2009, the police stopped Bell for driving on the wrong side of the road. However, several other people had also driven on the wrong side of that particular stretch of road, as the construction was confusing – this was proved in court.

When Bell was stopped the police asked Bell how much had he been drinking and Bell replied, “More than I should have, I know. I’m not fighting that.” The police asked him to take field sobriety tests, to which Bell complied and he passed all six field sobriety tests.



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The police arrested him without warrant, because he had admitted to drinking alcohol, and he smelled of alcohol, and he was driving on the wrong side of a road, where several others were also confused and drove down the wrong side.

Three lower courts ruled that the police lacked probable cause to arrest Bell. And as the arrest was declared unlawful, the results of a blood test conducted later showing 0.15 percent blood alcohol – almost twice the legal limit – was deemed inadmissible as evidence.

However, the Tennessee Supreme Court said that the police had to make a common-sense analysis of facts on a case-to-case basis, and there was sufficient probable cause in this case for the police to arrest Bell without warrant.

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