The Minnesota Court of Appeals says that the signs of intoxication include bloodshot and watery eyes along with the odor of alcohol. An officer only needs a single objective indication that an individual is intoxicated to constitute probable cause.
This is rather frightening in a way because the way the Court of Appeals’ description reads is that anyone who has bloodshot and watery eyes can be arrested for DWI if they are found to be behind the wheel of a car. This can make someone having allergy issues while driving look as if they are guilty of being intoxicated while driving.
The fact is that the Court of Appeals does not recognize that bloodshot and watery eyes can be the symptom of something else. Perhaps someone had alcohol spilled on them on an event, which causes them to smell like they have been consuming it. While this may seem like a long shot, this is possible.
This has resulted in some individuals speaking out about what kind of conclusions a police officer can draw when they see someone they have pulled over with bloodshot and watery eyes. It is one of the cues for drunk driving, but it should not be the only ones an officer uses to support an arrest.
In fact, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, which is the very organization that pushed the legal limit from .10 to .08 in each state, did a study of impaired drivers in 1997. In this study, the NHTSA had the goal of instructing officers on how to spot drunk drivers and arrest them. As a part of their conclusion, they drew up a list of eight cues that officers should look for when determining whether or not a driver is impaired.
One of the cues that did not make the list was bloodshot and watery eyes. This was a cue on the old list. The reason why it was removed was because the NHTSA realized that that bloodshot and watery eyes has a lot to do with people who have allergy problems and less to do with alcohol consumption. Bloodshot and watery eyes can also be the result of being tired and there are a lot of people driving home after a long shift or coming home later from their second job. If a police officer simply based his decision on the appearance of someone’s eyes, then the defendant has a right to fight.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has been telling police officers to ignore the bloodshot and watery eyes cue in regards to suspected drunk drivers. In fact, they have been telling them this for the past sixteen years, yet the Minnesota Court of Appeals stated in their opinion that it was evidence enough to authorize an arrest.
It is very likely that the court was not presented with the NHTSA study that was done in 1997, so it most likely did not factor into the decision. That is why it is probably sufficient for the study to be entered as evidence in every case where the state wants to use bloodshot and watery eyes as evidence of DWI. The study gives a bit of scientific muscle to a defense case. The fact is that bloodshot and watery eyes are a surefire sign that someone is having allergy issues, which is not a crime in Minnesota.