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Green v. Throckmorton – The Unreliability of Field Sobriety Tests

by | Jun 22, 2012

Field sobriety tests are an aspect of investigation that D.C. metro police are relying on more frequently these days in D.C. DUI cases.

D.C. DUI attorneys understand that this is partially due to the widespread accuracy problems uncovered with the district’s breathalyzer machines. But another reason police are so keen to rely on field sobriety tests is that they are notoriously subjective, but can be highly regarded in court.

For example, if an officer says you can’t follow a pen with your eye, how can you prove otherwise? Judges and juries also give a lot of weight to the testimony of an officer.

But Green v. Throckmorton, heard recently by the Sixth Circuit U.S. District Court of Appeals in Ohio, illustrates why these tests are often unreliable – and why you need to immediately seek the services of a skilled D.C. DUI defense lawyer who can address any possible holes in the testimony regarding the field sobriety test.

In this case Catrena Green was driving on a rainy road in Ohio (this case is outside of the District, but the same general rules apply). Green’s visibility was impaired by the rain, and she did later admit she was tired from a full day at a motorcycle show.

Because she was having a difficult time seeing in front of her, she had her high beams on. When she passed a state trooper, she failed to turn them off.

Trooper Adam Throckmorton pulled Green over. She was nervous. She was tired. She was older and slightly overweight. But she was not, she insisted, drunk. In fact, all she’d had to drink that day was water.

The trooper indicated that her pupils were dilated. He suspected she was on some kind of narcotics. She insisted she wasn’t.

She apologized repeatedly for not turning her brights off, but said it was because she couldn’t see. The officer took note of the fact that when he allowed her to exit the vehicle to get her license, which was in her purse in the trunk, she forgot to take her seat belt off and nearly tripped. He took this as a sign of intoxication. But anyone who has ever been pulled over knows nerves can get the better of you.

Throckmorton indicated at no time did he smell alcohol or drugs. Yet, he had Green undergo several field sobriety tests.

Among those he conducted were the horizontal-gaze nystagmus test, in which you follow an object with your eyes. Green reportedly failed it. He then had her recite the alphabet, beginning with L and ending with S. She had trouble. Then he wanted her to count back from 57 down to 42. She was able to do so, but had some trouble. He noted she was slightly slurring her words. He then had her do the one-leg-stand test. She was unsteady on her feet, he reported.

While some of this was captured in his dash camera, some of the thinking exercise tests were not.

Based on the results of these tests, the trooper arrested Green for DUI. She was held in custody for two days because she was unable to immediately find a bondsman who would take her credit card.

While at the station, she underwent a urine test. That test came back 100 percent negative. Nothing. She had been completely sober the entire time – just like she had been insisting.

The charges were eventually dropped.

Green filed a civil suit against Throckmorton, saying he violated her civil rights. The lower court ruled Throckmorton had qualified immunity, but the appeals court disagreed, reversing that decision and allowing Green to move forward with her case.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.