WICHITA, Kansas – A Kansas Supreme Court ruling today could change the way authorities investigate drunk drivers.
The state’s high court reversed a Wichita man’s DUI conviction ruling the officer lacked reasonable suspicion.
The original decision for William Molitor came from the Sedgwick County District Court where they said that one of the sobriety field tests that Molitor failed was a valid reason to hand down a DUI conviction.
However, the Kansas Supreme Court said otherwise.
When deciding to make a DUI arrest, law enforcement officials say they look at several factors, beginning with observations made by the officer.
“Is there the odor of alcohol, is there speech slurred, what did their eyes look like, are they blood shot?” said Lt. Lin Dehning with the Sedgwick Co. Sheriff’s Office.
- The horizontal gaze Nystagmus vision test
- The walk and turn
- The one leg stand
“All that together can be used to develop that probable cause to make the arrest,” said Lt. Dehning.
It’s the horizontal gaze Nystagmus vision test that played a role in getting a Wichita man’s DUI conviction overturned.
The Kansas Supreme Court said the man had passed two of the sobriety tests, but flunked the vision test.
Since the vision test typically can’t be admitted as evidence at trial, combined with the fact that he passed the other two tests, the court ruled there was no probably cause to give Molitor a Breathalzyer test.
“The Kansas Supreme Court itself said today in Kansas, the horizontal gaze Nystagmus test has no more credibility than a Ouija board or a magic 8-ball,” said legal analyst Dan Monnat.
Monnat said the Supreme Court has been urging law enforcement agencies to throw out the test for the last decade. He says this could lead to other DUI convictions being over-turned in the future.
“Every time the Kansas Supreme Court makes a decision declaring what the law actually is it always has the potential to result in the reversal of many other convictions,” said Monnat.
But Lt. Dehning said it’s too early to tell if the Supreme Court’s decisions will change anything.
“It all depends on how the ruling comes down from the courts, if it’s going to establish some kind of case law.”
Another thing that is important to note is that only two of the field sobriety tests, the walk and turn and the one leg stand, are admissible standards accepted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.