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Moving driver to nearby police station for field sobriety tests was reasonable

State v. Caleb James Watson, 2021AP355-CR, District 2, 8/25/21 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Taking Watson to a local police station to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) wasn’t unreasonable and thus didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment.

Having come to suspect Watson of OWI, an officer asked Watson to do FSTs. Watson agreed. Because it was 3:30 a.m. in January and they were on a highway but not near Watson’s car, the officer decided to drive Watson to a nearby convenience store to do the FSTs. Watson agreed to this, too. En route, the local police department offered their station house instead. The officer took them up on it, as it would safe, secure, warm, well-lit, and devoid of the distractions that might be present at a business open to the public. Again, Watson agreed. (¶¶2-6).

If there are reasonable grounds for doing so, police may transport a person from the site of a traffic stop to someplace in the general vicinity to do FSTs without necessarily turning it into an arrest. State v. Quartana, 213 Wis. 2d 440, 570 N.W.2d 618 (Ct. App. 1997). What matters is whether, under the the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have considered himself or herself to be in custody given the degree of restraint. Id. at 449-50.

Watson argues that the manner of moving him and the place to which he was moved transformed his detention because he was handcuffed and taken to a more institutional setting, both of which tend to make a person believe he or she is being arrested. But Watson wasn’t told he was under arrest, and the police station was a better place to do the FSTs, as the officer explained to Watson. Thus, a reasonable person in Watson’s position wouldn’t have concluded he was under arrest. (¶¶11-17).

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