Springfield police officer James Stewart has been acquitted of charges that he was driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed his car in 2014.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Rudolph Braud acquitted Stewart today after a bench trial held last week. Braud, however, decided that Stewart was guilty of illegal transportation of alcohol and improper lane travel.
Stewart had a 1.75 liter bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon in his car that was two-thirds empty when he crashed his Toyota Camry into a concrete median on the 1600 block of Stevenson Drive on April 12, 2014. He said that he had swerved to avoid a dog that had run across the road and suffered a head injury in the accident, which explained why he was exhibiting signs of impairment consistent with intoxication, including slurred speech and indications of problems with balance. He declined to perform roadside sobriety tests or submit to breath testing.
During closing arguments Patrick “Tim” Timoney, Stewart’s lawyer, told the judge that Stewart had been drinking prior to the accident but pointed out that it is not illegal to drink before driving. He argued that the state had not established its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that there was a plausible explanation for both the accident and how Stewart acted in the aftermath.
Braud last year had ruled in Stewart’s favor in a hearing held to determine whether his driver’s license should be suspended. The judge ruled that there was not sufficient reason for police to believe that Stewart was under the influence of alcohol and therefore should be required to take a breath test.
After Braud’s ruling, Timoney said that he wasn’t surprised by the verdict.
“That’s the exact result that there should have been,” Timoney said. “Just because he’s a police officer doesn’t mean he should be held to a higher standard.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.