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Supreme Court Says Off-Site Sobriety Test was Unconstitutional

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday that a man suspected of drunken driving who was stopped in a remote canyon and taken to an off-duty officer's home for sobriety tests was unconstitutionally detained.

In a 4-1 decision, the court said the detention violated Mitchell Worwood's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

On June 20, 2003, an off-duty Utah Highway Patrol trooper encountered Worwood standing by a truck that was partially blocking a dirt road up Deep Canyon near Levan, about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City, according to court papers. Worwood then got in the truck to pull it over to the side of the road, and off-duty officer, Korey Wright, stopped.

He said he didn't identify himself to Worwood, but given they come from the same small community in Juab County, Wright said Worwood "knew who he was."

Wright reported that he smelled alcohol and Worwood's speech seemed slurred so he told him to he should be checked out by a trooper before driving more. Wright told Worwood to get into Wright's truck. Wright had a friend with him drive Worwood's truck down the canyon and asked that friend to call police and meet them at Wright's house. At Wright's house, officer Kevin Wright arrived and gave Worwood field sobriety tests and arrested him.

Worwood pleaded not guilty to a third-degree felony charge of driving under the influence with two prior convictions. He then filed a motion to have the basis for the charge, including the field sobriety test, suppressed contending that his constitutional rights had been violated. His motion was denied and he entered a conditional guilty plea and appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court's decision.

But the Utah Supreme Court, in its decision, said that although Wright's initial encounter with Worwood was justified under reasonable suspicion, the rest of the detention exceeded the constitutional bounds of an investigative stop.

The Supreme Court ruled that because the field sobriety tests were part of that detention, the test results should be suppressed and the case should be sent back to 4th District Court in Nephi for further action.

"We are doing all we can to keep drunk drivers off the road. We think the officer acted reasonably here," Assistant Attorney General Fred Voros said in a statement. "Unfortunately the record was a little sparse in this case."

It's that missing information that Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins notes in his dissent. He wrote that there could have been safety concerns or other factors that led to the officer's decision to move Worwood down the canyon. But Wilkins said he still felt the facts in the case and the off-duty officer's suspicions were sufficient to justify his actions.

Wilkins also took issue with the assertion in the majority opinion that the benefits of suppressing the field sobriety tests outweigh the social costs. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the greater social evil at issue, he wrote in his dissent.

A message left by The Associated Press for Worwood's attorney, Scott Card, was not immediately returned Friday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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