Waynesboro, Virginia Police smelled a little more than the odor of an alcoholic beverage when they pulled over and detained Efrain Moreno Alvarez earlier this week for suspicion of driving under the influence. The smell? Skunk. Not as in skunky, over the hill beer. Real skunk. Like, call in the Turtle Man to capture the rascal before he yucks up the neighborhood, skunk!
On November 11th Sgt. Brian Edwards, a member of the Waynesboro Police Department, witnessed an older Chevy Lumina strike a guardrail while travelling on Interstate 64. After a little more erratic driving Sgt. Edwards eventually detained the driver, Efrain Moreno Alavarez. This is there things went downhill in a hurry. When officers approached the vehicle Alvarez was travelling in, they were overcome by the unmistakable smell of skunk.
Somehow, some way, officers were able to smell an odor of alcohol on Alvarez. This, amongst other observed signs of impairment, led them to request field sobriety exercises which Alvarez failed leading to his arrest. Ultimately Alvarez submitted to testing which showed a blood alcohol content of .15. The legal blood alcohol limit in every state is .08.
Because DUI investigations are, for the most part, very similar in each State, it is a safe bet to assume that the testing performed on Alvarez was very close to what he would have encountered had he hunted skunks in Florida. DUI arrests in Florida generally begin with an officer or concerned citizen witnessing erratic driving or slow reaction time to traffic signals. Based on these observations or confirmed observations the officer will pull the driver over either for reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place (a DUI) or if the officer has probable cause to believe the individual has committed a civil traffic infraction. Either reason is valid in order to make contact with the driver. Once contact is made the officer will either develop reasonable suspicion to request field sobriety exercises or dispel such reasonable suspicion he had previously through his observations. Typical observations would be bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, an odor of alcohol and poor motor skills. Depending on the performance of the suspect on field sobriety exercises the suspect will either be arrested or sent on his way. If he is arrested he will be requested to perform a breath, blood, or urine test to detect the presence of an intoxicating substance. His results or refusal to cooperate will impact his ability to drive for at least 6 months and possibly longer.
Florida Statute 316.193 governs Driving Under the Influence. At minimum, if you are convicted of a first time DUI you are looking at very harsh penalties. Unlike other crimes a DUI requires a mandatory adjudication of guilt, which is a formal conviction under the law. You could be jailed up to 6 months and fined between $500 and $1000. You will be required to take a 12 hour level 1 DUI school including an alcohol evaluation, in addition to attending a victim impact panel performed by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. A minimum of 50 public service hours is required for probation sentences along with a 10 day vehicle impoundment. Lastly and often the most debilitating is the fact that you will lose your driver’s license for at least 6 months. Alvarez likely has something resembling this to look forward to over the course of the next year.
As a Tampa DUI attorney I’m wondering how the officer is going to support the notion of smelling alcohol over the smell of skunk. Seems to me like this could be a little fudging on the part of Officer Friendly. Regardless, no doubt the other observations gave rise to reasonable suspicion and ultimately probable cause to make the arrest. A skunky day for Alvarez and the officers involved indeed.
Jason Mayberry is a Tampa criminal lawyer and Tampa personal injury attorney located in Tampa, Florida and Clearwater, FL. If you need an attorney, please give us a call at 813-444-7435 or at 727-771-3847.