It seems a Texas court of appeals has recently ruled that a driver taking a breath mint may be considered as sufficient additional evidence for a drunk driving arrest, even if the officer admits that there was insufficient evidence before then.
A panel consisting of three judges made this decision in an August 2010 case in Lewisville, Texas, when a limousine driver was stopped as he was fetching clients from the airport.
A trooper from the Texas Department of Public Safety was on Interstate 35E and was just about to issue a speeding ticket to a motorcycle when he saw a Chevy Tahoe changing lanes without signaling, and almost crashing into the motorcycle. The trooper had a feeling that apart from bad driving, it could also be a case of DUI.
When the trooper stopped the Chevy Tahoe, he noticed the mild odor of alcohol. The passengers denied drinking alcohol, although the driver seemed nervous. The trooper told the driver that he would issue a written notice for changing lanes without signaling. Upon returning from his police car, however, the trooper noticed a strong smell of breath mints.
The trooper asked the limousine driver if he had just taken a breath mint, to which the driver said yes. The driver was immediately asked to step out of the Chevy Tahoe, and was arrested and convicted of DUI.
The driver appealed, stating that the traffic stop was considered complete once the driver’s license was handed back to him without a warning. Anything after that, the driver pointed out, was considered an illegal detention.
Although the three-judge panel acknowledged this traffic stop principle, they had to determine whether or not the use of breath mints was enough to suggest that another criminal activity had been committed apart from the sudden lane change.
The trial court and appellate judges agreed that, combined with the clues the trooper picked up before the breath mint incident, there was enough evidence to provide suspicion to make a search reasonable with the Fourth Amendment.
In the state of Minnesota, a fourth-degree or first time DWI is classified as a misdemeanor, which may result in a maximum jail time of 90 days and a fine amounting to $1,000. A second- and third-degree DWI are considered gross misdemeanors, with maximum sentences of up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. A first-degree DWI is classified as a felony, with a maximum sentence of 7 years behind bars and a fine amounting to $14,000.