In State v. Perley, 2015 VT 102 (August 14, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court dealt with what constitutes “reasonable grounds” for an officer to request an evidentiary test from an individual suspected of driving under the influence.
Issue: Whether an officer had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Defendant was driving under the influence, and therefore to request an evidentiary test, when he found Defendant in an intoxicated state two hours after Defendant was in a car accident.
Holding: The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion for acquittal for test-refusal, having been previously convicted of a DUI. The Court found that the officer had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Defendant had been driving under the influence, and therefore found that the officer’s request for an evidentiary test was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, because he knew Defendant had been in a car accident approximately two hours earlier and had fled the scene of that accident, and because he found Defendant in an obviously intoxicated state approximately two hours after the accident. The Court emphasized that “reasonable grounds” is akin to “probable cause,” which is a fairly low bar; the officer, therefore, didn’t have to rule out the possibility that Defendant consumed alcohol after the accident in order to have reasonable grounds to believe that Defendant had committed the crime of driving under the influence. The Court also found that the officer’s failure to contact Defendant’s requested attorney was not clear error that negated the reasonableness of his test-request, because he offered to call a public defender, and Defendant declined that offer.