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The Police Need More Than Just the Smell of Alcohol to Arrest You for DUI

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In the case of Robert Santiago versus the State of Florida, the facts were as follows:

The police received an anonymous phone call about a car parked at the end of a dead end street at 2:00 a.m. with its headlights periodically flashing on and off. When officers arrived at the location, they found Mr. Santiago and a female passenger inside the vehicle. The keys were in the ignition so music could play, but the engine was not running. After an officer smelled alcohol on Santiago’s breath, Santiago stated that he had drunk a couple of beers, but he was not driving. When asked why he was at that location, Santiago gave the officers a vague explanation. The police then ordered him to step out of the car, and when he did so a small plastic bag containing cocaine dropped from his lap onto the ground. The officers searched the car and located a short plastic straw that they believed to be drug paraphernalia. The female passenger, who owned the vehicle, told the officers that both the cocaine and the paraphernalia belonged to Santiago. He was then arrested for possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

Later, in court, the officer testified that the smell of alcohol combined with Santiago’s admission that he had drunk a couple of beers did not lead him to conclude that Santiago might be under the influence of alcohol. Nevertheless, he still ordered Santiago to get out of his car. The court of appeals said that the police need more than just the smell of alcohol to order someone out of his car to do a DUI investigation. Examples of such things include speeding during the early morning hours, bloodshot and watery eyes, and being slumped over the steering wheel with the engine running and the headlights on. Because none of those things were present in Santiago’s case, it was illegal for the police to order him out of his car. Therefore, the plastic bag containing cocaine that dropped from his lap onto the ground and the drug paraphernalia found in the car could not be used against him in court.