This week, a police chief of the Fruitland, Maryland force was found not guilty by a judge of both driving while impaired and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Some people would read that sentence and think to themselves, "Of course he was. He's a cop." But some of the facts of the case tend to bolster the defendant's claims that he was not intoxicated.
In late June, Michael Phillips was driving in nearby Princess Anne when he was pulled over by a deputy with the Somerset County Sheriff's Office for following the patrolman's vehicle too closely. According to the deputy, Phillips was swerving and almost struck a building when pulling into a carport, did not immediately follow the deputy's commands, smelled of alcohol, and admitted to consuming five drinks. Phillips declined to take a breath test for alcohol and also refused to submit to field sobriety testing.
In contrast, Phillips' lawyer made the case that his client didn't really swerve or take an inordinate amount of time following the deputy's commands, did not stumble or sway while walking, and did not provide a timeframe in which he consumed those five drinks. Both the state and the defense used portions of the dashcam video footage from the deputy's vehicle during their arguments.
Ultimately, the judge acquitted Phillips on the two serious charges but convicted him of following too closely. The chief had been placed on administrative leave shortly after the arrest, but will likely return to active duty soon.
Given a lack of evidence regarding Phillips' level of impairment, it appears that the state simply didn't meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in this case. Of course, it's also possible that the chief was given more consideration due to his position in law enforcement, even though that can never be proven. (Although Somerset County is not where Fruitland is located.) Let's just hope that the justice system in Somerset County works just as well for a civilian who is arrested for DUI under similar circumstances without any physical evidence of impairment.