Last week the Florida Supreme Court made it harder for blood and breath evidence to be admitted in DUI cases and required officers to be more diligent in their communication amongst themselves. In a little noticed case, the Court held that the “fellow officer rule” requires actual communication concerning probable cause. The Court further held that a consent form signed by a suspect can be involuntary if it is preceded by a warning that their license could be suspended.
In State v. Montes-Valeton, the Court overturned the lower court. In the case, the initial officer responded to a crash. This officer noticed a smell of alcohol, but did not inform other officers about it. In fact, the officer who asked Mr. Montes-Valeton for the blood draw indicated “he did not recall” if there was a smell of alcohol. The Fellow Officer Rule in broad terms, means that the collective knowledge of law enforcement will be imputed to each individual officer. However, the Court reasoned that this information must be actually communicated in order to be valid. Since there was no proof the first officer’s observations were communicated to the other officers, the fellow officer rule did not apply and there was no probable cause.
The government was able to secure a signed consent form from Mr. Montes-Valeton allowing a blood draw in this case. However, this was only after the police incorrectly noted that his license would suffer a lengthy suspension if he did not comply. The Court held this was involuntary and thus invalid. Since there was no probable cause, there would be no license suspension and the consent was induced by a misrepresentation.
This case can have far reaching impacts in many areas of criminal defense besides DUI, as these days it is very common for multiple officers to be involved in one case. If their communications amongst each other are not sufficient, it can be grounds to suppress evidence.