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Appeals court tosses OWI charge against man arrested at his home

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EAU CLAIRE, WI (WTAQ) - A state appeals court has thrown out a drunk driving charge against an Eau Claire man, saying a police officer was wrong to walk into the man’s garage to question him.

64-year-old Michael Christofferson was arrested in July of 2010 for his third OWI offense.

Court records showed that his vehicle was seen hitting a median, and he appeared off-kilter at a convenience store. A witness later called 911, and an officer went to the man’s home where he saw Christofferson in his garage leaving his truck.

The officer said he noticed that the driver smelled of alcohol, and had trouble keeping himself in 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. And on appeal, prosecutors defended the arrest by saying the officer was in pursuit, the man was a danger to the public, and important evidence might have been destroyed if the arrest was not made immediately.

But 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. 

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