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Field Tests and why you need to ask if the Officer will arrest you if you refuse: Bramlett v. State

M Bramlett appealed his conviction for DUI following a jury trial.  Bramlett asserts on appeal that his field sobriety tests, the one-leg stand, and nine-step walk and turn, should be excluded from evidence as they were not consensual.  The Trial Court disagreed.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.  M. Bramlett was stopped by Deputy Matt Runion of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for speeding and “wandering partway out of his lane.”

Deputy Runion activated his blue lights and Bramlett was slow to stop passing several possible locations. Bramlett was slow to produce his license. Bramlett smelled of alcohol. Bramlett was unsteady on his feet, swayed, walked unsteadily, had thick speech, sluggish face, and bloodshot and watery eyes. Bramlett denied drinking.  Bramlett refused a portable breath test (only admissible positive or negative for alcohol) claiming he knew his rights.  Bramlett consented to the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test exhibiting 6 of 6 clues. Bramlett exhibited 4 of 8 clues on the Walk and Turn test. Bramlett was unable to perform the One Leg Stand test.  Bramlett was unable to recite his alphabet. He refused the State Administered Test of his breath at the jail or the official test.

Bramlett claimed that he was not informed that the field tests were voluntary such that he was in custody for purposes of the Miranda warnings.  The legal standard for Miranda warnings is that an ordinary reasonable person (ORP) would believe the detention was more than temporary.  The Trial Court ruled no custody under Miranda and the Court of Appeals affirmed without discussion. The other issue presented was whether the field tests without informing they were voluntary violated the Georgia Constitution’s guarantee that “no person shall be compelled to give testimony tending in any manner to be self-incriminating.”  Testimony has been construed to mean oral confessions, involuntary incriminating admissions, and acts that are incriminating in nature.  The Court Appeals found that field sobriety tests to be incriminating must be refused and:

  1. threatened with criminal sanctions for failure to perform the tests;
  2. physically forced to do the tests; and
  3. an act equal to the actual use of force.

The Court of Appeals found that an officer is not required to inform a DUI suspect that field tests are voluntary.  The Court of Appeals found that none of these three criteria were present as Bramlett stated he knew his rights.

Lesson: Never tell the police you know your rights.  Be very polite and calm. Always ask the police if they will take you to jail if you refuse the field sobriety tests.  If they say yes, they are incriminating acts under the Georgia Constitution.  A little know fact is that the Georgia Constitution gives more rights to individuals than the Federal Constitution.  Our forefathers were from a prisoner’s colony you know and knew to keep quiet around the police.