Judge affirms, overturns rulings in state trooper drunk driving case.

December 10, 2015

Seymour Sammy a

New trial date has not been set.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — An opinion and order regarding some evidence in the drunk driving case against a Michigan State Police trooper was issued today by Mason County Probate Court Judge Jeffrey Nellis.

Seymour was arrested on January 17, 2015 in the City of Ludington and charged with a misdemeanor charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) after he was pulled over in the City of Ludington by Ludington Police Sgt. Steve Wietryzkowski. Seymour turned down a plea agreement from the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office and therefore the case went to trial.  On May 12, after a two day trial in 79th District Court, the six person jury came back unable to reach a unanimous decision; Judge Peter Wadel declared a mistrial. The following day, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola announced the case would be tried again.

OWI is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 93 days in the county jail.

During the trial, Judge Wadel had ruled on four items that the prosecution challenged during the case, including suppression of some of the defendant’s statements during the time of the traffic stop, suppression of the results of a roadside sobriety test, suppression of results of a portable breathalyzer test and also the directed verdict decision which essentially declared the case a mistrial as a result of the hung jury.

Judge Nellis was requested to write an opinion based on appeals from the prosecution. Today, Nellis’ order was to agree with three out of the four items, only reversing the suppression of the results of the breathalyzer test.

Nellis cited precedent from the Michigan Supreme Court justifying his decision to reverse Judge Wadel’s order.

Judge Jeff Nellis

Judge Jeff Nellis

“The admission of the chemical test results is expressly authorized by (state statute),” Nellis wrote. “At issue is whether Sgt. Wietryzkowski’s ‘observation’ constituted proper procedures and methods in the administration of the test of defendant Seymour.

“This court has reviewed the video of the booking room where the observation took place. The court finds that Sgt. Wietryzkowski was in the room the entire time of the observation period. He was close enough to be aware of the defendant’s actions and condition. There were no obstructions to his view of the defendant.

“Further, they were only a few feet from each other. There were also others in the room during this time although they were not qualified operators under the administration rules.”

The Hon. Pete Wadel, 79th District Court judge.

The Hon. Pete Wadel, 79th District Court judge.

Judge Nellis upheld Judge Wadel’s rulings in the other areas. Nellis said Wadel did not abuse discretion when ruling that some of Seymour’s statements during the time of his arrest could be withheld from the jury.

Nellis stated, in his opinion, that Seymour had asked Sgt. Wietryzkowski three times if he could walk him and if his vehicle could be towed. “He inquired about whether or not he should have been driving,” Nellis stated. “He apologized for the actions of his sister.”

Seymour’s sister, Kimberly Sue Septrion, was a passenger in Seymour’s vehicle and was arrested that evening on the felony charge of resisting/obstructing police. Septrion pleaded no contest and avoided jail time.

Nellis continued: “He makes cooperative statements regarding taking sobriety and breath tests; he discusses a few times that he does not need any problems right now and he asks for professional courtesy.

“As to the consciousness of guilt argument, the trial court (Judge Wadel) was concerned about the ambiguous nature of the comments and whether they really went to the issue of guilt.

Judge Wadel ultimately determined that the statements went to a concern for the situation that defendant found himself in, more so than it did to his guilt.

“The trial court also pointed out that the defendant did not necessarily know that he had committed any crime at that point as neither a PBT (breathalyzer) or Data Master test had been administered when the statements did not rise to the level of an admission.

Sammy Seymour watches testimony.

Sammy Seymour watches testimony.

“Ultimately because the statements were capable of too many interpretations the trial court ruled that they were not admissible.”

Nellis also ruled that the roadside horizontal gaze nystagmus test results could remain suppressed. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye while focusing on an object moving gradually, which can be an indicator of alcohol consumption.

“The issue before the court is whether the people laid a sufficient foundation to justify the introduction of this evidence,” Nellis stated. “The trial court determined that the people did not sufficiently lay that foundation and ruled that the results could not be introduced into trial. 

“In this case, the plaintiff (prosecution) had to establish that Sgt. Wietryzkowski  was qualified to perform the test. Sgt. Wietryzkowski testified he was trained and certified to administer field sobriety tests pursuant to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards.

“Proper performance requirement is a trickier issue,” Nellis said.”The NHTSA has formulated standards for the proper administration of HGN tests. Unfortunately those standard were not introduced into record, although the defense counsel did refer to certain standards when cross examining the officer.

“Further, Sgt. Wietryzkowski admitted that he did not remember the order in which he tested for each clue, and he checked each eye twice before going to the next eye test.

“Under these circumstances, especially in light of the officer’s admission that he did not not specifically remember the order in which he administered the test, the court agrees with the trial court. Therefore the trial court ruling to keep out the HGN results is affirmed.”

According to Mason County Magistrate Paddy Baker, a new trial date has not yet been set.

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