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Court OKs Civil Rights Suit for Wrongful Drunken Driving Charge

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that Ryohei Akima, a 37-year-old man from Japan wrongly accused of drunken driving three years ago can sue Caitlyn Peca, a Michigan police officer for a violation of his constitutional rights, after she "grossly misread" a breath test and conceded during the stop that she had “no idea” what she was doing. Although the man blew a 0.02 on the breath test, Peca — who worked for the police department in Fowlerville, Michigan — read the results as 0.22 -- nearly three times the state’s blood-alcohol limit for driving, the Associated Press reports. Charges of driving while intoxicated were dropped days later, when a blood draw from the scene revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.01.

Almost always, courts find that police officers are protected by "qualified immunity." But a 6th Circuit panel ruled otherwise. “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.” Peca still works in law enforcement, but for a different sheriff’s department and the lawsuit will return to federal court in Detroit for trial or a possible settlement.


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