Redskins defensive back Sean Taylor was cleared yesterday of the second and final charge stemming from a drunken driving arrest after a Fairfax County judge watched the videotape of Taylor's roadside sobriety tests and found no basis for his arrest in October.
Taylor, 21, was pulled over on the Capital Beltway about 2:35 a.m. Oct. 27 after a Virginia state trooper allegedly caught him speeding. The trooper had Taylor perform a series of tasks designed to test for intoxication, then asked Taylor to take a breathalyzer test.
Sean Taylor, left, with attorney Warren W. McLain in January. Taylor's DWI charge was dismissed and his conviction for refusing to take a breath test was successfully appealed.
(Larry Morris - The Washington Post)
Taylor refused, and the trooper charged him with drunken driving and refusal to take a breath test. Taylor spent the rest of the night in the Fairfax jail, and Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs suspended him from that weekend's game against the Green Bay Packers.
In January, a Fairfax General District Court judge dismissed the drunken driving charge but found Taylor guilty of refusing to take a breath test. Taylor appealed that ruling and won yesterday after a four-hour trial before Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows, who found there was no probable cause to arrest Taylor.
The rookie Redskin declined to answer questions yesterday after his second acquittal. But when his attorney, Warren W. McLain, was asked whether the arrest had damaged Taylor's reputation, Taylor said, "That's always going to be there," and then stalked away.
The video camera mounted in State Trooper Mandre D. Boggess's police car captured pictures and sounds of his 40-minute encounter with Taylor on the shoulder of the Beltway, and the tape led to the dismissal of both charges against Taylor. After watching Taylor touch his nose, stand on one foot, walk a straight line, watch a moving pencil and fail to recite a stretch of the alphabet, Fairfax General District Court Judge Mitchell I. Nutnick said, "I've seen a whole lot worse" and threw out the drunken driving charge.
So McLain's argument was that Taylor's alleged refusal to take a breathalyzer test was "fruit from the poisonous tree": a long-standing legal concept that if evidence is obtained illegally, anything that evidence led to cannot be used at trial.
Virginia law requires drivers to take either a breath test or a blood test when requested by police or automatically lose their license for a year. Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jay R. Nanavati agreed that if Taylor's arrest were improper, then his refusal to take a breath test should be dismissed. But he argued that Boggess had fairly stopped Taylor for speeding, smelled alcohol on Taylor and felt that he had failed the sobriety tests.
Nanavati said the trooper was then entitled to ask Taylor to take a preliminary breath test in the field, which Taylor twice refused, and ask again at the Fairfax jail in front of the Intoxilyzer breath test machine, which Taylor again declined.
Bellows watched the videotape. "On the whole, I thought Mr. Taylor did fairly well on the tests," the judge said. He said he was concerned that Taylor omitted three letters when reciting the alphabet from E to O. But "measured against how well he did on the other tests," Bellows said, as well as showing no slurred speech or unsteadiness or unresponsiveness, "I can't find there was probable cause to arrest him."