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Judge finds police error in Virginia DUI case


A judge has ruled that a Fairfax, Virginia, police officer did not have cause to pull over a driver in December and threw out the drunk driving charges against the man. That driver, the former head of the Federal Aviation Administration, resigned from his position after his arrest. That ended the man’s tenure in federal government, a profession he entered after a 25-year career as a commercial airline pilot.

The trial in the Fairfax City General District Court began with the prosecution showing a videotape of the traffic stop. Once the video finished playing, the judge stopped the trial. He said the officer did not have a sufficient reason to pull over the FAA chief, instead stopping him on nothing more than an instinct. The judge therefore dismissed the case against the man.

According to the video, the driver made a left turn, crossing double yellow lines. The officer’s report had indicated that the man drove on the wrong side of the road, but the video did not back that account. The judge stopped the proceedings before prosecutors could submit the man’s blood-alcohol tests results, which they said exceeded the legal limit. Defense attorneys disputed that finding, saying the first test administered to the man registered below Virginia’s 0.08 legal limit.

In court, the man’s attorney said he had been to a dinner party and had up to three glasses of wine over more than three hours. The man, 65, showed no signs of being drunk, the lawyer said. As he headed home, his car’s GPS indicated he had gone the wrong way, so he turned left into a business complex to turn around.

Just after his arrest late last year, federal authorities put the man on administrative leave before his resignation. He said he did not have any anger toward the arresting officer and did not regret his resignation, saying he never wanted to serve as a distraction to the agency.

When making traffic stops, police officers must comply with applicable laws and standards. Dashboard cameras mounted in police cars can in some circumstances provide exculpatory evidence for defendants who believe they have been wrongly accused of DUI.

Source: The Washington Post, “Drunken driving charge dismissed against former FAA chief Randy Babbitt,” Justin Jouvenal, May 10, 2012.

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