We all know what it is like to drive home tired after a long day at work. You are probably on the phone or bumping to music to keep yourself awake. You may even slightly drift over the yellow line. That’s what happened to one 23-year-old Georgia woman, Katelyn Ebner, after she left her waitressing job, and she was pulled over for it. Only, she wasn’t handed a warning or even a ticket, but rather had cold handcuffs slapped to her wrists before she was hauled to jail.
The police officer who pulled her over believed her to be under the influence of drugs, even though her field sobriety test showed that she was not. He then took her to jail, where she was forced to stay the night. She was tested for drugs and alcohol, all of which came back negative. By this time though, it was too late. Her liquor serving license was revoked, and Ebner had to pay thousands in legal fees to clear her name. The jury did declare her innocent though, once they saw that her blood tests came back negative.
So why was the police officer able to arrest her and ruin her life because he “thought” she was driving under the influence? It’s simple: he’s a certified “drug recognition expert” and is trained to not only realize hen someone is on drugs, but to also be able to tell what drug they are on. However, as you can tell from Ebner’s story, it obviously has some major faults.
It’s also not the first time this has happened. HuffPost reports:
Over the course of a nearly half-hour traffic stop, however, Officer Tracy Carroll made it clear that he believed Ebner was driving intoxicated, which had supposedly caused her car to cross the center line. And Carroll was intent on confirming that suspicion using his training as a drug recognition expert, a controversial certification that some critics say can put innocent people in jail based on “guesswork.”
In a dashcam video later obtained by WXIA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta that first reported on Ebner’s story, Carroll asks Ebner to step out of her vehicle, then he proceeds to conduct a 20-minute field sobriety test. Ebner repeatedly says she’s “nervous,” telling Carroll it’s the first time she’s been pulled over. At one point, Carroll shines a bright, blueish light into Ebner’s eyes for nearly three minutes. He asks her to blow into a Breathalyzer, which returns a negative result. Then Carroll makes Ebner perform a number of exercises: walk heel-to-toe, touch her nose, look here, look there.
Finally, he makes his conclusion.
“You’re showing me indicators that you have smoked marijuana,” Carroll tells Ebner as he goes to handcuff her.
“The only thing that I can honestly think of is I’m anemic, like, highly anemic. You can check my records,” Ebner pleads. “I do not smoke weed. I do not do any of that stuff. I do not do that stuff. I have never had any problems. Nothing.”
Ebner asks if Carroll can give her a drug test to prove that she’s sober, but he’s made up his mind.
“You’re going to jail, ma’am,” he says. “I don’t have a magical drug test that I can give you right now.”
The program that Carroll was trained in is a 12-step evaluation, in which the officer is able to identify indications of substance use in the physical, mental, and medical aspects. However, he did not follow all 12 steps before arresting Ebner.
Carroll is one of Cobb County’s most prolific drug recognition experts (DREs), racking up 90 DUI arrests in 2016, according to WXIA. If his arrest of Ebner is any indication, however, the method isn’t perfect.
Because of Carroll’s observations, Ebner spent the night in jail, accused of driving under the influence, which caused her to lose her alcohol server’s permit for work. Although she maintained her innocence and submitted to a required blood test, Ebner wouldn’t be fully vindicated until four months later, when that test, as well as a separate urine screen she got through a private lab, came back negative.
The Cobb County Police Department is standing behind their deputy and believe he acted in accordance. Sgt. Dana Pierce stated, “We are aware of the WXIA reporter’s piece, and we are continuing to look internally at how we do these DUI investigations and the protocol and procedures that are currently in place within the department.” Pierce continued, “As a state-certified and nationally accredited law enforcement agency, we are very concerned about [DUI] cases outside of alcohol that appear to be on the increase in our local jurisdictions, state and nationally. We will strive to continue to protect our community from people who choose to drive under the influence.”
As WXIA reports, Ebner’s ordeal wasn’t an isolated incident. In 2016, Carroll arrested at least two more motorists on suspicion of driving while high on marijuana only to have their drug tests come back negative.
He went ahead and arrested her anyway on guesswork ― pure guesswork.William Head, criminal defense attorney
“They’re ruining people’s lives,” Ebner told WXIA.
These sorts of field screening tests are troubling to William Head, a Georgia criminal defense attorney.
“The case law around the country says if a person has had this additional training, they’re allowed to get up [on the stand] and tell the jury that they have special training and can detect things that even a doctor can’t detect,” Head told HuffPost.
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