Sober Driver Can Sue Over ‘Drunk’ Driving Stop

     (CN) – A Michigan deputy sheriff failed to convince the 6th Circuit that he had cited a driver for reckless driving because the man appeared drunk. A jury might conclude that the deputy was lying, the court said, because the driver turned out to be stone-cold sober.

     Sanilac County Deputy Sheriff Jim Wagester pulled over Alan Miller after seeing him run a stop sign on an icy road in February 2006. Deputy Wagester said he “detected a slight odor of alcohol” on Miller, whose eyes allegedly looked “glazed or glassy.”
     After making Miller recite the alphabet, walk a straight line, touch his nose and count backward, Wagester determined that Miller failed all but one test.
     Miller claimed he was not informed if he passed or not. After Miller declined a breathalyzer test, Wagester arrested him for reckless driving, allegedly by kicking his feet apart and slamming him against the police car.
     During the booking process, Miller consented to a blood-alcohol test. The results showed that he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.00 percent.
     All charges were dismissed.
     Miller sued Deputy Wagester and Sanilac County in district court for civil rights violations. Wagester asserted qualified immunity, and the judge granted the county’s request for summary judgment.
     On appeal, Miller argued that Wagester did not have probable cause to arrest him.
     “[T]he fact that Miller’s blood alcohol was found to be 0.00% casts doubt on Deputy Wagester’s claims that Miller smelled of alcohol and failed the field sobriety tests,” Judge Gilbert Merritt wrote for the three-judge panel in Cincinnati.
     “In light of the conflict in the evidence, the jury could conclude that Wagester was lying.”
     The circuit reinstated Miller’s federal claims of malicious prosecution for the criminal charges, unlawful arrest and excessive force, and his state claims of false arrest/ imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and assault and battery.
     Judge Deborah Cook dissented in part.

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