Although State Supreme Court Justice Amy J. Fricano failed no sobriety tests when she was pulled over, police officers at the scene decided she seemed impaired and had to be arrested for driving with her ability impaired by drugs, according to testimony at a Town Court hearing Wednesday.
"She said she had a disability, and we didn't do some of the tests we normally do," City of Lockport Officer Steven K. Abbott said.
Fricano, 52, was placed on administrative leave from her judicial duties the day after her April 9 arrest, which followed a 5:25 p.m. accident in which her sport utility vehicle sheared off a utility pole on High Street in the City of Lockport.
The hearing was called to determine whether the officers had legally sufficient cause to stop Fricano's vehicle and arrest her on a charge that carries a maximum one-year jail term upon conviction.
"I didn't feel comfortable letting her drive away. She already smacked a telephone pole," State Trooper Wayne Carr testified.
Town Justice Leonard G. Tilney Jr. gave the sides two weeks to submit written summations and three more weeks to file replies to each others' arguments. That means no ruling will be issued until sometime after July 18 on a defense motion to dismiss the charges.
Tilney indicated little doubt about whether there was probable cause to stop Fricano. There was front-end damage, it matched the description of the vehicle that struck the pole and Sheriff's Deputy Michael P. Dunn said he saw the SUV swerve over the center line twice while following it on East High Street.
But he wanted the attorneys to focus on whether there ought to have been an arrest on the drugged driving charge.
"We think it's thin," defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said of the evidence.
"There was reasonable cause to detain her," special prosecutor Leonard E. Krawczyk Jr. said.
Fricano told the officers she had taken hydrocodone, a prescription painkiller, the night before the accident. She has been on and off medical leave since injuring her back jumping out of the way of an oncoming car in the Southgate Plaza parking lot in West Seneca in December 2003.
All five officers who testified Wednesday agreed in their characterization of Fricano's manner. Four first saw her on Ernest Road in the Town of Lockport, where the SUV was pulled over, and one never saw her until he arrived at the Niagara County Sheriff's Department two hours later to administer more drug-related tests.
"She had slurred speech, very slow. She was shaking, also," Abbott said in a typical response to the question from Krawczyk about what he observed of Fricano.
Tilney asked Carr if the symptoms could have been caused by shock from the accident. Carr was unsure.
"That is positive. We're glad the judge picked that up," Daniels told reporters after the two-hour hearing.
Daniels also had argued that police took too long to arrest Fricano, who was not formally charged until two and a half hours after she was pulled over.
Dunn, the official arresting officer, said police decided to wait for a certified drug-recognition expert, Trooper Dean Scirri, who didn't start work until 7 p.m. and didn't get to the sheriff's office until 7:40.
It was Dunn who first stopped the car in response to a police radio broadcast of its description. Abbott was second on the scene and Carr was third.