Mistrial Declared in Boating Under the Influence Trial

January 17, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Jeffrey Leigh Sloan at the time of his arrest

A mistrial was declared Wednesday evening after a day long jury trial of 54 year old Jeffrey Leigh Sloan of Sparta charged with the misdemeanor offense of boating under the influence.

After deliberating for two hours, the jury of ten women and two men informed Judge Leon Burns, Jr. that they could not reach a unanimous decision on a verdict. The trial, covered only by WJLE was held in DeKalb County Criminal court.

Had he been found guilty, Sloan could have received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days and fined from $250 to $2,500. Sloan might also have lost his boating privileges. No word yet on whether the case will be re-tried.

Sloan was arrested on the night of October 7, 2011 by TWRA officers Nick Luper and Mike Beaty who testified they were on Center Hill Lake in the Hurricane Recreation area helping search for a missing person when they heard loud music coming from as far as two miles away. When they went to investigate they found that the music was coming from a 1989 Sea Ray cabin cruiser, operated by Sloan. His wife, Tammy Sloan was also on board. The boat was near Hurricane bridge. Officers said they pulled up to the boat and talked with Sloan. While conducting a safety inspection of Sloan's boat, Officer Luper testified that he could smell an odor of alcohol on Sloan, that his face was red, that his eyes were watery, and that he showed signs of impairment. Sloan told the officers that he had three mixed drinks at the Hurricane Marina restaurant on the lake, one when he arrived around 5:30 p.m., another during dinner around 7:00 p.m. and one just before he left the restaurant around 9:00 p.m. Sloan said he had also taken the medication adderall that day for a physical condition he suffers from.

Sloan submitted to field sobriety tasks on board the boat including the palm pat and finger to nose tests. Sloan was also asked to recite the ABC's and to perform a backward count from 89 to 65. After performing poorly on some of the tasks, according to the TWRA officers, Sloan was escorted to shore where he submitted to other sobriety tasks including the walk and turn and one leg stand tests. He was then placed under arrest. Sloan refused to submit to a blood alcohol test. Officers made a video recording showing Sloan conducting the sobriety tasks and that was shown to the jury during the trial.

Sloan's wife Tammy testified that while her husband had consumed up to three mixed drinks the night of his arrest, he was not impaired. However, she said Sloan does suffer from some physical ailments. She said Sloan is blind in one eye which affects his depth perception and balance. Mrs. Sloan said she doesn't even allow him to climb a ladder, fearing he will miss a step and fall. Mrs. Sloan testified that she would not have let him operate the boat that night if he had been intoxicated.

In her closing arguments to the jury, Sloan's attorney Cindy Howell Morgan said the officers drew the wrong conclusions about Sloan in this case. "People make mistakes. People use judgment and sometimes its subjective judgment. I'm not saying that he (Officer Luper) didn't have cause for concern or that he shouldn't have given these field sobriety tests. I'm saying that he (officer) makes mistakes. We're all human," said Morgan.

She also challenged the credibility of the field sobriety tasks. "You heard him (Officer Luper) testify that he is aware of the research from the California Research Institute that says in the best of situations, when they're doing their testing that these tests they do is approximately 68% accurate. Thirty two percent inaccurate. Yet, they want to come in here and say that based upon these tests we will find this man guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And then we look at the tests. What tests did they give him? How good did he do? If he makes one error, is that to say that he failed the test? We're all human. We all make mistakes especially when we're in the spotlight where we're being stopped by an officer, being questioned and interrogated and made to sit on a boat and do these somewhat impossible tasks," she said.

Morgan argued that while Sloan may not have been perfect in performing the field sobriety tasks, he was not impaired and that the video proves it. "We all saw that video. We didn't see him fumbling with any registration. We didn't see him unsteady on his feet. He is on a boat which is constantly in motion and what we see is a person standing there perfectly steady, having a conversation with TWRA officers. A coherent conversation," she said. "Examine the facts. Examine the physical conditions that Mr. Sloan has and the conditions of being out there on that boat. Was he perfect? No. Can any of you say that under the same circumstances that you would have been perfect? And if you're not perfect, does that say that you're under the influence? I submit if you take all these things into consideration that you're going to find that there is reasonable doubt in this case," said Morgan.

Assistant District Attorney General Greg Strong, who prosecuted the case, said the state had proven that Sloan was drinking prior to his arrest and that he was impaired. "He took his adderall. He drank three whiskey drinks at the bar and then he got in his boat. Please don't underestimate the seriousness of boating under the influence. Its just as dangerous as driving under the influence," he said.

Strong also responded to the defense's challenge of the sobriety tasks. "The whole argument by the defense from the beginning to the end is that these tests are designed to set somebody up for failure. That's all that's been on trial here today. If these tests were set up for failure, would officer Luper not have arrested hundreds of people, rather than only 19 (since he has been an officer with the TWRA)?. He told you that's the same ones (tests) he gives all the time, every time. He (Luper) said 'I give those same tests and then I make a determination as to whether I should proceed further to the shore for more (field sobriety) tasks.' If these tests were designed for failure, we wouldn't have a jail big enough in the summer to put people in because that's when most people are on the lake and that's when he (Officer Luper) patrols the lake. It was the totality of the circumstances that led him (Officer Luper) to the conclusion that this defendant (Sloan) was guilty of boating under the influence," he said.

Strong further argued that Sloan knew he was impaired which is why he did not submit to a blood alcohol test. "People refuse blood alcohol tests for a reason and that reason is because they know they will show up (in the tests) impaired. That's why he (Sloan) didn't take that test. That's why he refused it. Because he had drugs (adderall) in his system. Whether they be legal drugs or not, they probably shouldn't have been mixed with alcohol. And he had three whiskey drinks in a short time at a bar over at Hurricane Marina Restaurant. He knew that's what that test would show. It would show that we was impaired. When you add all those things up, his complexion, the odor of alcohol, and those field sobriety tasks, coupled with the fact that he refused a blood alcohol test, I submit to you that he is guilty of boating under the influence" said Strong.

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