A man from Japan wrongly accused of drunken driving can sue a Michigan police officer who grossly misread a breath test and conceded during the stop that she had “no idea” what she was doing, a federal appeals court said Thursday.
The man blew a 0.02 on the breath test, but it was mistakenly read by the Fowlerville officer as 0.22 — nearly three times over the state’s blood-alcohol limit for driving.
A blood draw subsequently revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.01. Charges of driving while intoxicated were dropped days later in 2020 when the lab results came in.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the man's lawsuit, alleging a violation of constitutional rights, can proceed against Officer Caitlyn Peca.
The man, a 37-year-old native of Yonago, Japan, was in the U.S. on a work visa.
“It would be evident to a reasonable officer that (the man) was, quite apparently, sober,” Judge Jane Stranch said in a 3-0 opinion. “So a reasonable jury could conclude that (the) arrest was not supported by probable cause and that Officer Peca was not entitled to qualified immunity.”
T. Joseph Seward, an attorney representing Peca, said he was disappointed by the decision and believes the man's performance on roadside sobriety tests was enough to arrest him.
The appeals court, however, said that another officer at the scene testified that the tests were administered incorrectly, which may have affected the results.
The court noted that Peca, who was a rookie officer, at one point told a colleague over the radio, “I have no idea what I'm doing."
Seward said Peca now works elsewhere for a sheriff's department. The lawsuit will return to federal court in Detroit for trial or a possible settlement.
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