Appeal from the District Court, Fourth Judicial District, Trial Court No. 4NE-13-95 CR, Nenana, Ben Seekins, Judge.
William A. Spiers, Assistant District Attorney, Fairbanks, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellant.
William R. Satterberg Jr., The Law Offices of William R. Satterberg, Jr., Fairbanks, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard, Judge.
A state trooper contacted David C. Spencer outside a residence shortly after the trooper observed Spencer driving his four-wheeler on the street in Nenana. During the course of this contact, the trooper observed signs that Spencer was intoxicated.
Based on his observations, the trooper administered field sobriety tests to Spencer. During those tests, Spencer began complaining about performing the tests and expressed his reluctance to do so. The trooper repeatedly told Spencer to complete the rest of the field sobriety tests, which Spencer did. After Spencer failed the field sobriety tests, the trooper arrested him for driving under the influence. A later breath test revealed a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
Spencer moved to suppress the evidence of his intoxication, asserting that the trooper unlawfully coerced him into performing the field sobriety tests. Spencer argued that the trooper could not demand that he perform field sobriety tests unless the trooper had probable cause to believe he was driving under the influence.
After an evidentiary hearing and supplemental briefing by the parties, the district court agreed with Spencer that the trooper needed probable cause to compel him to submit to field sobriety tests against his will. The court further found that the trooper did not have probable cause to believe Spencer was driving under the influence until after Spencer failed the field sobriety tests. The court therefore granted Spencer's motion to suppress and dismissed the case.
The State now appeals. For the reasons explained here, we conclude that the district court relied on an erroneous interpretation of the law. We therefore reverse the district court's orders and remand this case to the district court for proceedings consistent with this decision.
Why we reverse the decision of the district court and remand this case
In Alaska, the police are entitled to administer field sobriety tests whenever they have reasonable suspicion to believe a motorist is driving under the influence.  As w e first noted in McCorm ick v. Anchorage, the majority of states treat field sobriety tests as a form of a Terry stop, not as a search. In McCormick, we observed:
Although there is some disagreement among the states on this issue, most courts hold that a motorist has no constitutional right to refuse field sobriety tests as long as the requested field sobriety tests are non-testimonial ... and as long as the officer's request for field sobriety tests is supported by the requisite reasonable suspicion[.]
Following our decision in McCormick, we issued Galimba v. Anchorage, in which we definitively held that "in Alaska, police do not need probable cause sufficient for an arrest ...