I have heard of IAD witch hunts and judges excepting crappy evidence, but Seiser v. City of Chicago is the first case I’ve seen where IAD ordered the arrest of an officer without a shred of evidence approaching probable cause, and the courts upheld it!
Seiser was Guilty of Being Stupid
For those of you who don’t know, which is probably anyone outside of the field of criminal justice, Seiser v. City of Chicago is a case where the Chicago Police Department arrested one of their officers for DUI, because he was seen driving while drinking water out of a repurposed TGIFriday’s Mudslide bottle.
This Call Started Good, but Ended Really Bad
Based on the witness statements and the plain-view discovery of the apparent alcoholic beverage container in Officer Seiser’s vehicle, Sergeant Verta had ample suspicion to think that Seiser might be guilty of an open container violation, and possibly even DUI, and was clearly authorized to detain him during their investigation, and even had probable cause to enter his car to seize the bottle… And that’s the end of reason’s cameo in this one.
Drinking While Driving is Not DUI
Any reasonable suspicion that Seiser was DUI ended as soon as Verta contacted Sizer and noticed that there was NO indications of intoxication! The case brief doesn’t tell us how long it was between the call to 911 and Verta’s contact with Seiser, but since they finally arrested him about 2 1/2 hours after the call, following an apparently exhaustive investigation, it’s probably safe to say that Verta contacted Seiser within one hour from the time he was reportedly seen drinking from the container. Now, unless they invented some new form of alcohol, Verta should have observed at least some of the same indicators of intoxication that Anderson did, but he didn’t report directly observing ANY indicators of intoxication, only a lack of cooperation with his investigation! In fact NONE of the officers who contacted Seiser reported observing ANY indications of intoxication, despite the fact that they were all trained in spotting indicators, and they were all specifically searching for evidence intoxication!
Conclusion? Anderson was obviously a lying SOS, but CPD ignored that, because Seiser pissed them off by not rolling over on command. In fact, even if Seiser HAD been drinking vodka, there still wasn’t enough evidence to reach the level of probable cause for a DUI arrest, because there was no evidence that he was so intoxicated that he was unable to safely operated a motor vehicle.
Verta Did Have Probable Cause to Search Seiser’s Car
Even after Verta’s contact with Seiser decimated the credibility of Anderson and the reasonableness of any DUI arrest, Verta might still be able to argue that he had probable cause to to believe that the bottle he saw in Seiser’s car contained alcohol. After all, what reasonable person would refill an alcoholic beverage container with a non-alcoholic beverage, then consume it in public, while driving and wearing a police uniform on duty? Furthermore, if Seiser just had a small sip, there might not have been enough for Verta to smell. Therefore, Verta could enter Seiser’s vehicle despite his objections under the motor vehicle exception to the 4th amendment, to search for evidence of the apparent open container violation.
Disregarding the Intent of the Law
That said, even reasonable suspicion of the open container violation evaporated once they got the container. Let’s see, the label is for an opaque brown drink, but it’s filled with a clear liquid that smells nothing like alcohol, hmm… Oh well! Must be that new scentless hooch! Hook ‘im up boys! CPD was so hellbent on prosecuting Seiser that they even sent the bottle to a lab for testing, and the court wrote that there was NO way for them to know if it contain alcohol until it was analyzed at the lab! Seriously? These are our anointed arbiters of legal reasonableness? How about this? If you can’t smell it, there ain’t enough to say so, Stupid! Do they hook people up for open bottles of NyQuil in the car in Chicago?
Probable Cause Need Not be Reasonable in the 7th Circuit
Believe it or not, the court actually put into writing that not only were the verbal statements of “Aboveboard” Anderson and the other witnesses probable cause for the officers to believe that Seiser had been DUI, despite of the absolute lack of supporting observations by ANY officers, but that the officers had “NO REASON” to disregard the witnesses’ statements! Now that I think about it, given the breath-taking lack of reason possessed by the judges up there, I suppose it would be reasonable to assume that their officers are equally devoid of any reasoning capability, and that the local school security guard would be the most reliable perceptor of reality…
Seiser Probably Could Have Been Fired Without Bastardizing the Law
If Kirby wanted Seiser’s badge so bad, she should have just charged him with conduct unbecoming an officer, and sought his termination. No reasonable officer would refill an alcoholic beverage container with a non-alcoholic beverage, then consume it in public, while driving, wearing a police uniform, on duty, let alone stonewall the guy sent to investigate their poor choice of water bottle!
Of course, I’m saying all this from Texas, where (as far as I’ve seen) we know the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause, and if anything, we err on the side of caution. That said, this kind of unimaginable IAD witch-hunting and court stupidity is why I have to remain anonymous. These kind of shenanigans don’t exactly engender trust in our justice system either.
What do you think? Is it reasonable for officers to believe that someone probably was guilty of DUI or an open container violation, based on the reported observations of untrained citizen witnesses, which directly contradict the evidence in front of them? Is it reasonable for the court to seemingly ignore the officers’ observations, in one breath, then cannonize the citizens’ observations, while declaring the need to consider the totality of the circumstances? I, for one, am scared to death by this case, and I pray that the SCOTUS backhands these fools into next Tuesday! Or better yet, into Leavenworth.