Court Upholds Utah Woman’s DUI Conviction After Lehi Crash

The Utah Court of Appeals recently upheld the drunk driving conviction of a woman who caused a car accident in Lehi. The woman was allegedly driving the wrong way on State Street during a snow storm when she crashed into a car containing a couple. The couple was severely injured and had to be hospitalized.

The responding officer claims that he did not immediately suspect that the woman was intoxicated, but this changed when he realized that her speech as slurred and her eyes were glossed over. The officer also claimed that the woman smelled of alcohol and that she stumbled when she walked.

Despite just being in a severe car accident, the woman was cooperative when she was asked to participate in field sobriety tests. The officer could not initially decide where to conduct the field sobriety tests because the woman was not dressed warmly enough for the cold conditions. The officer claims that he briefly considered conducting the sobriety tests in a nearby gas station, but it appeared to be too crowded.

The snowstorm could have also compromised the results of the field sobriety tests if done under the gas station’s awning, so the officer asked the woman if she would accompany him to the police station. The officer allegedly told the woman that she was not under arrest, and she agreed to ride with the officer to the nearby police station.

Upon arriving at the police station the officer failed to call any of his coworkers and immediately administered the field sobriety tests in the parking garage. The officer claims that the woman failed the sobriety tests and admitted to doing vodka shots earlier in the evening.

An intoxilyzer test was then administered the woman’s blood content was nearly three times the legal limit at .228 percent.

This resulted in a woman being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) resulting in serious bodily injury to another and a traffic offense. The woman entered a conditional no-contest plea pending her appeal and was sentenced to probation and a nearly $2,900 fine.

On appeal, the woman claimed that her removal to the police station for testing was overly intrusive and a de facto arrest. The court disagreed and determined that the field sobriety testing in the police station garage was a minimally intrusive detention alternative to having roadside testing during a snowstorm.

The court noted that the ride to the police station was under two minutes long and that testing in the station garage was less potentially embarrassing than testing at the car accident site.

“The new location offered Defendant the benefits of “flatter pavement,” warmth, and light, as opposed to the potential adverse impacts on her testing from either severe weather at the roadside or gawking customers at the convenience store,” Judge Gregory K. Orme wrote for the majority. “And its close proximity did not lengthen Defendant’s detention much beyond what would have been entailed in relocating to the convenience store.”

Judge Orme concluded that the totality of the circumstances, including the woman’s express consent, supported the extension of the woman’s detention for a few more minutes to administer the tests at the police garage and that she was not entitled to suppress evidence of her intoxication.

Source: Utah v. Beckstrom, 2013 WL 1771357, April 25, 2013

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