What do you get when you combine a possibly-overzealous cop with an allegedly-drunk driver, who is cleared of all charges after a urine test and two days in the slammer? A civil rights lawsuit debating reasonable suspicion, of course.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Adam Throckmorton arrested plaintiff Catrena Green for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs following an evening traffic for failing to dim her high beams in the face of oncoming traffic. The arrest was based on Green's responses to a series of field sobriety tests, but the charges were dropped when Green's urine sample later came back clean.
Green filed a §1983 civil rights lawsuit against Throckmorton, alleging that he had violated her Fourth Amendment rights by conducting the field sobriety tests without having a reasonable suspicion that she was impaired, and arresting her based on the results of those tests, (which she argues did not supply probable cause).
The district court dismissed both of Green’s claims on summary judgment, finding that Throckmorton had reasonable suspicion to detain her. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and reinstated Green's claims this week.
Because Green's field sobriety tests were taped, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had to view the facts on appeal in the light depicted by the videotape. The central issue was “whether the evidence presented a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Throckmorton claimed that he had probable cause to conduct the field sobriety tests because her pupils were dilated. He added that he had probable cause to arrest Green based on her confusion, slow reaction times, and the high beam violation.
Since a urine test later proved that she was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, the appellate court found that whether or not Throckmorton had reasonable suspicion to haul Green in to the drunk tank was a matter for a jury to decide.
The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the factors that Throckmorton cited, “when taken together, might be enough to give rise to a 'hunch' that Green was impaired,” but whether they are the kind of 'specific and articulable facts' necessary to 'reasonably warrant [the] intrusion' on her liberty is a question for the jury.
Though Green may not prevail before a jury — many juries are reluctant to award judgments against cops — at least she will get to make her case.
- Green v. Throckmorton (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Fifth Circuit Tosses Jury Award for Tourists Jailed During Katrina (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit Blog)
- Cop-Blocked: No Reasonable Suspicion for St. Thomas Traffic Stop (FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog)