Arizona Man Charged with DUI Despite Blowing a .000

Wednesday, 12. June 2013

CC image Wikipedia.orgAn Arizona man was recently charged with Driving Under the Influence despite registering a .000 on the breathalyzer test.

Jessie Thornton, 64, was pulled over shortly after leaving an LA Fitness gym.  The officer approached Thornton’s vehicle and after a short conversation, he accused Thornton of driving under the influence.

“He walked up and he said ‘I can tell you’re driving DUI by looking in your eyes,” said Thornton.

According to the police report, Thornton had bloodshot eyes, but the 64-year-old said there was a simple explanation; he just got done swimming laps in the gym’s pool.  Thornton said swimming helps strengthen his “bad knees”, but the officer thought he was hiding something.

“I take my glasses off and he says, ‘You’ve got bloodshot eyes.’ I said, ‘I’ve been swimming at LA Fitness,’ and he says, ‘I think you’re DUI,’” Thornton told KNXV-TV in Arizona. “He goes, ‘Well we’re going to do a sobriety test.’ I said, ‘OK, but I got bad knees and a bad hip with surgery in two days.’”

True to his word, Thornton was scheduled to undergo hip replacement surgery in the days following his arrest.  He recently underwent the operation, but he experienced hip pain during his DUI arrest.

“I couldn’t even sit on the ground like that and they knew it and I was like laying on the ground, then they put me in the back of an SUV and when I asked the officer to move her seat up because my hip hurt she told me to stop whining,” Thornton told KNXV.

Taken Downtown

Thornton was placed in the squad car after he consented to a field-sobriety test.  It’s uncertain how he preformed on the roadside tests, but officers felt there was enough evidence to haul him down to the station.

Thornton was subjected to additional testing once he arrived at the police station.  He was initially asked to take a breathalyzer test, which came back .000. Believing that some other illegal substance caused Thornton’s eyes to become bloodshot, officers had him examined by a drug recognition expert.  According to the expert, Thornton showed no signs of drug use.

Law enforcement officials later dropped the DUI charge, but Thornton’s car was impounded after he was taken into police custody.  Thornton has since retained legal counsel, and he plans to sue the city for half a million dollars.

Thornton’s biggest ally in his case against the city may be the drug expert who examined him at the station.

“After he did all the tests, he says, ‘I would never have arrested you, you show no signs of impairment,’” Thornton said.

Appelman Law Firm attempted to reach out to Marc Victor, the attorney who will represent Thornton in his case against the city, but Victor was in court.  Our firm is scheduled to speak with Mr. Victor on Friday, and we’ll have the transcription of the interview on our blog on Monday morning.

In an interview with Jeff Grant of the Independent News Media, Victor said the Surprise Police Department has it out for his client.

“Mr. Thornton has been pulled over numerous times and accused of several minor traffic violations, which Mr. Thornton maintains never occurred,” said Victor.

He also added that the officers violated his client’s basic rights.

“My client was arrested, charged, had a needle stuck in his arm, and he was charged to the point he needed a lawyer. I think this was an abuse of discretion. It’s a civi- rights case. It’s a pretty serious violation.”

Criminal Defense Attorney Avery Appelman comments

Police officers are trained in the detection of DWI offenders. They look for specific indicia (symptoms) of intoxication that they use to form a reasonable belief that the driver is DWI. This reasonable belief may be considered probable cause to justify the arrest of someone for DWI.

Some of the symptoms police officers look for include:

  • Driving conduct;
  • Bloodshot, glassy or watery eyes;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Delayed responses to verbal queries;
  • Lack of coherent thought process;
  • Poor balance;
  • Failure to follow instructions on field sobriety tests;
  • Performance of field sobriety tests;
  • Preliminary breath test results;
  • A breath, blood or urine test at the station.

In the current situation involving Mr. Thornton, as usual, the police officer was unwilling to use discretion, to think possibly that something other than intoxication was the cause of the behavior. Police officers are trained robots. They have a guidebook that they are told they must adhere to. They are trained not to think, but to follow a step-by-step process. When they encounter objections, they immediately turn toward the least common denominator; that being the person in front of them is a criminal with something to hide.

Objectively, the police officer may very well have been confronted with signs of impairment: poor driving conduct, bloodshot eyes, balance impairment, etc. All of these factors may be considered by the police officer as symptoms of intoxication warranting a DWI arrest, regardless of the lawful reason behind them (recent swimming in a chlorinated pool and severe hip ailment requiring major surgery). Police officers aren’t trained to think in opposing viewpoints. They interpret these signs in the light most favorable to arrest. This officer made a huge mistake and should be held accountable personally. The individual officer should be required to shoulder the costs of his and the department’s legal defense and should be obligated to pay all damages in connection with any settlement or reward.

The officer knows the city and the department are insured to finance their wrongdoings. Making the officer personally liable ensures that when confronted with similar circumstances, all officers think twice.

Related sources: KNXV-TV,

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Avery Appelman is a criminal defense lawyer and the founder of Appelman Law Firm. While his practice is primarily recognized for its work with DWI and related offenses, he has 16 years of experience working with clients on drug, assault, theft, traffic, criminal sexual conduct, and prostitution charges.

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One Response to “Arizona Man Charged with DUI Despite Blowing a .000”

  1. Racism in Arizona: An Interview with the Attorney representing the Sober Man who was Charged with a DUI | MN Criminal Defense Blog Says:

    [...] week, we featured a story on our blog about Jessie Thornton, an Arizona man who was arrested and charged with DUI despite blowing a .000 on the breathalyzer test. Friday we spoke with Marc J. Victor, the attorney who is representing [...]

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