July 30, 2014

Appeals court tosses OWI conviction

Ruling that a police officer was wrong to walk into his garage to question him, a state appeals court has thrown out the drunken driving conviction of a 64 year-old Eau Claire man. Michael Christofferson was arrested in July of 2010 for his third OWI offense. Court records showed that his vehicle was seen striking a median, and that he appeared off-kilter at a convenience store. A witness later called 911, and a police officer saw Christofferson in his garage leaving his truck. The officer said he noticed that the driver smelled of alcohol, and had trouble keeping his balance.

Christofferson did not talk to the officer at that point, and he went into his house as the officer followed him in and arrested him. He was convicted of OWI. On appeal, prosecutors defended the arrest by saying the officer was in pursuit, that Christopherson was a danger to the public, and important evidence might have been destroyed if the arrest was not made immediately.

The Third District Appellate Court in Wausau bought none of it, and said the officer’s entry into the garage was illegal because he did not have probable cause to arrest the driver.