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Man with cerebral palsy falsely arrested for drunk driving

Last month, we posted that drunk driving charges are not always as solid as they appear. In Wisconsin, police use a combination of field sobriety tests and breath, blood or urine tests to build a criminal case against a suspected drunk driver.

There are numerous opportunities for mistakes to occur during this process. Furthermore, police may act without taking the time to learn relevant facts about a suspect's medical history or medical condition. A recent example shows that this carelessness can prove costly.

A 59-year-old Tennessee man has filed a lawsuit against the county sheriff's department after he was wrongfully arrested on drunk driving charges. The man alleges that police mistook his cerebral palsy for intoxication.

In May of 2010, the man was driving and accidentally struck a dog that darted in front of his truck. When the man reported the accident to police, they administered a series of field sobriety tests, on which he performed poorly. Officers noted that the man also exhibited slurred speech and was unsteady on his feet.

All of these symptoms were caused by the man's cerebral palsy, but his explanations to police officers fell on deaf ears. After police took him to the hospital for a blood test, he was booked into county jail.

As bad as this error was, some might still call it an innocent mistake. However, what happened next was far from innocent.

The man claims that even after lab results showed no alcohol in his system, prosecutors still pursued the case and he was urged to plead guilty to drunk driving. Eventually, they were forced to drop the charges.

The man says the whole incident was an embarrassment. He says: "I've never been to jail in my life. I've never been in trouble in my life."

His multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, failure to train officers and a violation of constitutional rights.

Police hold a lot of power. With that power comes the burden of responsibility. Lawsuits like this one are important because they send a clear message: if police abuse their power by failing to follow procedure, they can and will be held accountable.

Source: Insurance Journal online, "Tennesseean Sues, Says Police Mistook Medical Condition for Drunkenness," 08 June 2011

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