Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:On Oct. 22, 2005. Kathy Winkley was driving north from Eden toward San Angelo when she noticed the vehicle ahead of them being driven in an erratic fashion. Winkley testified that she first noticed the other vehicle in a highway construction area, when it almost entered the southbound lane in disregard of traffic cones separating the lanes. After the construction zone ended and the highway divided into four lanes with a grass median between the northbound and southbound lanes, she saw the suspect vehicle “going like from the grass on the right side over to [the] other grass on the left side, back-and-forth.” At this point, Winkley called 911 on her cell phone, “because I didn’t feel like it was safe.” Winkley testified that she did not get close enough to the suspect vehicle to describe it in detail or get its license number, because it would sometimes speed up to 90 miles per hour and then the driver would “slam on the brakes.” Nevertheless, she kept it in sight as she followed it for about 20 minutes while describing her observations to the dispatcher. When the suspect vehicle was stopped, Winkley also stopped and remained at the scene until a deputy took her statement. Deputy Joe Ybarra testified that he was dispatched to investigate the report of a possible drunk driver. Ybarra said that he was able to find the two vehicles approaching San Angelo from the south, one following the other in the outside lane. He said that the suspect vehicle “was within its lane weaving back-and-forth, and then a couple of times or two occasions it crossed a solid white line leading into the improved shoulder, and it drove on the improved shoulder for some way.” The video camera in Ybarra’s patrol car recorded the incident. Ybarra testified that he stopped the suspect vehicle, which was driven by Mary Guthrie Nelson, for failing to maintain a single lane and for driving on the improved shoulder. After stopping Nelson, Ybarra had her step from her vehicle. He told her that another driver had reported that she was driving all over the road. Nelson acknowledged this, explaining that she had been looking for a snuff can. Ybarra immediately noticed the snuff can in open view in a cloth mesh pocket in the driver’s side door panel. Ybarra did not detect an odor of alcohol on or about Nelson’s person but he did notice that her pupils were “constricted.” Ybarra testified that he considered this to be a sign of possible controlled substance intoxication, but he acknowledged having no drug recognition training. He also conceded on cross-examination that Nelson’s pupils may have contracted due to the brightness of his emergency lights, which the videotape shows he turned off before administering the field sobriety tests. Ybarra testified that Nelson passed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. On direct examination, Ybarra testified that Nelson failed the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests. On cross-examination, Ybarra indicated that he observed two clues on the walk-and-turn, but he did not know how many possible clues there are on this test. The videotape shows that Nelson performed the walk-and-turn on the unimproved edge of the highway shoulder; Ybarra admitted that the test should have been carried out on the smoother improved surface. Ybarra also acknowledged that he did not give Nelson all of the instructions called for in the testing manual. After the field tests were completed, Ybarra arrested Nelson for driving while intoxicated due to a drug or controlled substance. Ybarra explained that this charge was later dropped, because Nelson was never evaluated by a certified drug recognition expert. Police seized 28 grams of diazepam from Nelson during a search that followed Nelson’s arrest. After the state charged Nelson with possession of less than 28 grams of diazepam, she filed a motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the search. The trial court suppressed the evidence, finding insufficient probable cause for the arrest. HOLDING:Affirmed. A warrantless automobile stop, the court stated, is a Fourth Amendment seizure analogous to a temporary detention, and it must be justified by reasonable suspicion. The factual basis for stopping a vehicle need not arise from the officer’s personal observation but may be supplied by information acquired from another person. A stop based on facts supplied by a citizen-eyewitness, when adequately corroborated by the officer, does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling and accepting the trial court’s fact findings as true, the court held that the totality of the circumstances gave Ybarra a reasonable basis for suspecting that Nelson was driving while intoxicated and to stop her for further investigation. A peace officer, the court stated, may arrest an offender without a warrant when he has probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed in his presence or view. Probable cause to arrest exists at the moment the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which the officer has reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the suspect has committed an offense. It is obvious from its findings that the trial court believed that Ybarra did not properly administer the field sobriety tests and was not qualified to recognize drug intoxication. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the court’s ruling and deferring to the trial court’s findings of fact, the trial court held that the state did not meet its burden of proving that Ybarra had probable cause to arrest Nelson for driving while intoxicated. OPINION:Waldrop, J.; Patterson, Pemberton and Waldrop, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.