In 2014, the Pennsylvania State Police falsely accused a New York man of drunk driving. The man spent 158 days in the Lehigh County Prison, despite being completely innocent. How did this miscarriage of justice occur? First, his bail was set at a level he could not afford. Second, a state trooper continued to insist on his guilt despite ample evidence that he was not.
The man was pulled over in Upper Macungie Township in June, 2014. Spotting a New York plate, the trooper decided to pull the man over. The man provided a valid New York license and registration, but the trooper said, ominously, “I smell alcohol.”
The man had not been drinking and said so.
“Oh you are from New York,” responded the trooper. “You must have guns or drugs? We know you have drugs, just tell us where they are.”
The man had no guns or drugs, either, but his statement to that effect had no effect on the trooper, who ordered him out of the vehicle.
The trooper gave him a preliminary breath test. It read 0.00 for alcohol.
The trooper had him perform field sobriety tests. He had no difficulties performing them.
The trooper searched his car. Nothing illegal was found.
Nevertheless, the trooper handcuffed the New Yorker and took him into custody. At the state police barracks, the man agreed to a blood test in order to rule out the presence of drugs. Apparently, a so-called “drug recognition expert” gave his opinion that the man might be using depressants of some kind. This was enough evidence for a Lehigh County magisterial district judge to set bail at $10,000.
Eleven days after his arrest, the blood test came back negative.
Unbelievably, the New York driver was not released. The state trooper insisted that the negative test result was inaccurate and insisted the sample be retested. Naturally, they came back negative again.
If that weren’t enough injustice, the trooper stepped over one more line. He told the court — falsely — that the blood test results were still pending.
It wasn’t until November that a judge found him not guilty and ordered his release. In the five months he had been locked up, the New York man lost his job and apartment. After losing everything due to the scurrilous charge and apparent police misconduct, he sued.
The State of Pennsylvania has agreed to pay him $150,000 in compensation for deprivation of his legal rights. No information was provided about the trooper’s fate.
Remember this story if you ever think you can’t afford a lawyer. In certain cases, not hiring an attorney could cost you your freedom — even if you’re innocent.