6/19/2012Ohio: Federal Court Overturns Bogus DUI Arrest
Sober woman sues after being jailed on a false drunk driving charge in Ohio.
A sober woman is fighting back after she was falsely arrested and imprisoned for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled last Wednesday that Catrena Green could proceed in her lawsuit against Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Adam B. Throckmorton after lab tests proved she had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.0 and no drugs in her system.
The three-judge panel overturned the decision of a US district court granting Throckmorton immunity for his actions in Chillicothe, Ohio in August 2008. He had seen Green's SUV driving in the opposite direction with her high beams activated. Throckmorton made a U-Turn and pulled her over in stop recorded by a dashboard camera. Green explained she had her high beams on because it was difficult to see in the wet conditions and she was trying to be careful. She asked whether she had done anything else wrong.
"No, not really," Throckmorton said during the stop. "You just brighted me and blinded me."
Throckmorton then claimed that Green's pupils were "constricted" and that she had difficulty getting out of her seatbelt. Though Green did not smell of alcohol or drugs, Throckmorton decided to perform field sobriety tests on her. He noted that she was unable to follow the swift motion of his pen in a horizontal-gaze nystagmus test that he spent twenty seconds administering. He noted that "she talked slowly" while repeating the letters of the alphabet beginning with "L" and ending in "S." She struggled to stand on one leg in the balance test. Green, who was 42 and overweight at the time, swayed slightly while performing the walk-and-turn test.
On the basis of those tests, Throckmorton arrested Green for DUI. She spent two days in jail while trying to meet bail with only a credit card. Green argues she was detained and tested without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. She insisted that the lab tests proved the trooper was lying.
"We find her argument persuasive," Judge Ronald Lee Gilman wrote for the court. "What matters here, rather, is what mattered in Miller: that a subsequent test for drugs and alcohol showed that the driver was in fact sober. That evidence alone is sufficient to cast doubt on the truthfulness of Throckmorton's testimony regarding Green's pupils."
The court decided that a jury should decide whether there were specific and articulable facts, not just a hunch, justifying Green's detention for the sobriety tests.
"We understand, of course, the difficulty inherent in making on-the-fly determinations regarding possible driving impairments, just as we recognize the severity of drunk driving and the potential consequences of an incorrect call had Green ultimately proven to be impaired," Judge Gilman wrote. "But this difficulty and these consequences always exist when an officer stops someone for a traffic violation. Yet officers do not have free rein to administer field sobriety tests to whomever they please and then to arrest that person for making the slightest misstep while performing the tests. Whether that is what happened in this case is a question for the jury."
A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.